April 04, 2014

Brothers at War

by Don Cummer
Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-1382-3 
204 pp.
Ages 8-14
October, 2013

There are many divisions in twelve-year-old Jacob Gibson's Upper Canada in 1811.  There are the towners and the dockers; the supporters of the Americans and of the British; those who have and those who have not pledged allegiance to the King; entitled, rich boys like William Dunwoody II and his best friend Henry Ecker and the regular boys like Jake and his friend Eli; the Iroquois and the British subjects of Upper Canada; and those itching to get to war and those opposed to it.  Sometimes the lines blur between the groups but most people differentiate themselves from others based on some criteria or another.

When Jake Gibson meets new boy Eli McCabe, son of the new tanner from America, he accepts him readily, especially after Eli helps him from a fall into a ditch during a snowball fight and then later from the frigid Niagara River when challenged by William and Henry.  Of course, Eli confirms the gossip that his father will not swear allegiance to King George, only coming to Upper Canada to be left alone and not deal in politics.  Now the McCabe family may be evicted from the Canadas.  And though William and Henry are relentless in their harrassment of Eli, calling him Turd Boy and pulling vicious pranks to make him look suspicious of vandalism and mischief, Jake and Eli are brought closer together, becoming blood brothers and determined to stand up to the menacing duo.  Sadly, with the dissolution of the Assembly by General Brock and the subsequent elections, coupled with the talk of war between across the Niagara River, Jake and Eli's friendship is tested and loyalty questioned.

Predictably, Upper Canada in 1811-1812 was no less corrupt than some political regions in Canada today.  There are those with wealth who happily use their money to corrupt others and the electoral process, without any concern for the rights and freedoms of all.  And though there are many who are forthcoming and demonstrate much integrity, the unscrupulous ones first must be challenged and blocked. Don Cummer has written a credible story of two boys whose friendship both spans their different worlds and resists that separation. Though it is difficult to always know the appropriate action when balancing friendship and country, Mr. Willcocks who publishes the Upper Canada Guardian advises Jacob,
"Stay close to your friends.  Protect them and keep them out of trouble.  No matter how difficult that may be at times.  In the end, they will thank you." (pg. 134)
This is wise advice, particularly as the War of 1812 will still not have begun at the conclusion of Brothers at War.  But the boys will need to wrestle with their loyalties to their families and their friendship, as well as to their own evolving politics, and fight themselves and each other when dealing with extraordinary circumstances that put those for whom they care in jeopardy. They are indeed brothers at war.

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I came across this quirky video titled Don Cummer arrested for Brothers at War on YouTube and thought readers might enjoy a chuckle as Don Cummer, the author of Brothers at War, attempts to sell copies of his book and is challenged by Mr. Joe Willcocks.  Luckily, the ending indicates that books are good for everything!

 Don Cummer arrested for Brothers at War
Uploaded by Don Cummer on November 2, 2013 to YouTube.

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