Constance Thompson was taught by her mother that their family does not turn the other cheek. If someone wrongs them, they right it. They don’t stand by when they see someone being wronged, either. This doesn’t make her family very popular in their corner of Randolph County, Indiana. It also gives Constance an urge to wander. Sometime in 1861 or 1862 (it’s not quite clear in the text), Constance cuts her hair, dresses in pants, leaves her husband behind on the farm, and enlists in the Union Army. Constance takes us along on her journey over the next few years in Laird Hunt’s Neverhome.
Constance enlists as Ash Thompson. Her strong hands and willingness to fight her new comrades actually helps her fit in. She becomes known as a reliable, capable soldier. She’s loyal. She doesn’t run, even when her regiment fights at Antietam. Even when she’s captured by armed men looking to return deserters for money or left wounded on a battlefield, Ash returns to her regiment.
Ash’s narration includes flashbacks to her childhood and her courtship by Bartholomew Thompson as she walks the forests of Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky. We learn more about how her mother broke down after saving a woman from being killed by angry townsfolk when events take an even worse turn for Ash. A nurse turns Ash in after she’s wounded and Ash is incarcerated in an insane asylum. Ugly rumors about her time in uniform surface. She’s accused of being a Confederate spy. Her colonel, who formerly praised her and wanted to give her a promotion, turns on her.
The ending of Neverhome is explosive. Even though it’s a brief 250+ pages, Neverhome is full of suspense and drama and heart-wrenching emotion. The narration, in period dialect, is superb. As I read, I was reminded of The Red Badge of Courage and—to a lesser extent—All Quiet on the Western Front. Hunt captures the madness of a countryside at war, as told by a woman who sounds like an authentic veteran.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 9 September 2014.