Turn Homeward, Hannalee
Patricia Beatty (J Historical Fiction)
The Civil War has been raging for three years now. Twelve-year-old Hannalee Reed’s father died in an Army hospital last winter and her older brother was currently in Virginia fighting for the Confederacy. She and her little brother, Jem, spend their days working in the mill making cloth for the soldiers while her mother awaits the birth of her fourth child. When Union soldiers arrive in her hometown of Roswell, Georgia, they burn down the mill and gather all of the millworkers—charging each one with treason and sending them to Tennessee and Kentucky by train. Before Hannalee is taken away, her mother pulls a button from her blouse and tells her daughter, “Wherever you go, keep this to remind yourself to come home. Turn your heart to me. Turn homeward, Hannalee!” Despite the miles between them and the impossible odds that lie ahead of her, Hannalee made her mother a promise that she would find a way home again and that is what she intended to do.
Precious is the book that not only entertains the soul of a young reader, but also enlightens their mind as well. Patricia Beatty’s Turn Homeward, Hannalee is such a book. The first half of Beatty’s book is based on actual events that occurred in July 1864 when the Yankee cavalry arrived in Roswell, Marietta, and New Manchester, Georgia, rounded up nearly two thousand mill workers, and put them all on trains heading north to either work in Union mills or to provide household or farm help to northern families. Like most of the soldiers before them, most of these workers were never heard from again—their futures forever remaining a mystery. Although Beatty targets her book for readers aged ten and older, she doesn’t shy away from depicting the cruelty, ugliness, and inhumanity that comes with war. Hannalee and Jem get to witness first-hand the horrors of the battle of Franklin, which lasted only six hours but was a terrible defeat for the Confederacy. Hannalee described the bloody scene before her by uttering, “I reckoned it was like looking into hell, and I felt sick inside.”
Although Beatty provides readers with a lot of facts and details surrounding the war, her book reads less like a history lesson and more like a thrilling action and adventure story where a new danger or challenge awaits our fearless heroine at every turn of the page. And even though Hannalee Reed sprang from Beatty’s wonderful imagination, it would be nice to think that among the eighteen hundred Georgian mill workers that simply vanished from government records, that there were a few girls—like Hannalee Reed—who traveled hundreds of miles through battlefields and blood and who survived hunger and the elements to make their way back home. That they did all of this because they had made a promise to their mothers and that was a promise worth keeping.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.amazon.com