Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Patriot POW

Five 4ths of July by Pat Raccio Hughes - a review writing exercise

Note: This is a review written as a writing exercise. It is of a book I purchased for my personal library.  I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it.

Five 4ths of July: A Novel of the American Revolution by Pat Raccio Hughes is a historical fiction novel for young adults. It tells the story of Jake “Mal” Mallery, a teenager growing up on the Connecticut coastline, and his experience as a prisoner of war in the American Revolution. Throughout the story, Hughes portrays a sense as to what the American colonists endured during the American Revolution and what it truly means to be free.

Pat Hughes
photo courtesy of author
 Pat Raccio Hughes was born in the mid-1950s. Raised in Hamden, Connecticut, she currently lives in a Philadelphia suburb. Because she grew up listening to her father reading classic novels aloud and reciting poetry, she naturally became an avid reader and author, writing her first story before she even entered third grade. She became a copy editor for the Hartford Courant and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and now is an award-winning novelist.  Her website, , includes interactive pages dedicated to historic backround information about all of her books.  One page, The Revolution's Forgotten Martyrs, explains why Hughes chose the prison hulks as the setting for this novel.

Five 4ths of July: A Novel of the American Revolution is available in both hardcover (list price: $16.99) and paperback ($8.99). I read the hardcover version, which is approximately 270 pages long. It comes encased in a crimson book jacket with a portrait of a colonial-era teen boy on the front. The image of a boy my age caught my attention, and the headline on the back, “War is an adventure...until you’re in it,” made me think I might enjoy it.

Textbooks tell us that captured soldiers were imprisoned in British Man-O’-Wars -- the battleships had been altered to hold prisoners instead of firing munitions. Two things were the main cause of death for prisoners: extremely unsanitary conditions and malnourishment. Most prisoners were not able to practice basic hygiene, and the only care given them by the British was when they died -- dead bodies were rowed to shore and buried by the “working shift” prisoners. Many starved to death. Ultimately, nearly twice as many prisoners died in these hulks as soldiers killed in the line of duty. Hughes researched her novel well, and it shows in her description of the ships themselves.

Jersey Prison Ship from Revolutionary War
Interior of the old Jersey prison ship, in the Revolutionary War
Public Domain

 The book itself takes place in New Haven, Connecticut over the course of five years - July 4, 1777 through the same date in 1781. The title describes the book because we see snapshots of Jake’s life on the same day in each of five consecutive years; through these singular images we can see the whole of his path from callow youth to mature Patriot. At the start of the book (July 4, 1777), 14-year-old Jake feels as if his life is planned out for him; he wants freedom from his overbearing father. He wants to join in the war as a privateer. He eventually gets away, but not how he planned; Jake’s father forces him to remain home and join the local militia on July 4th, 1778 and on July 4th, 1779, Jake is taken prisoner upon the Bonhomme, a British prison ship captured from the French during the Seven Years War and stationed in New York Harbor.  (Hughes takes her inspiration for the Bonhomme from a firsthand account of life on the Jersey prison ship.)

The only information prisoners were given about the outside world came from what the soldiers shared. British soldiers only informed Jake and his fellow prisoners about each battle’s ending statistics, not about how the people were faring. He would only hear what was happening back home if a newly captured prisoner happened to have been a neighbor. When Jake escaped in the black of night on July 4th, 1781, he found out the atrocities the soldiers omitted from their reports. The people in his former life were changed, and he found he couldn’t just pick up his life from where he left it.

I really enjoyed this book. My favorite part was the fact that the thoughts of Hannah, his pre-capture girlfriend, kept Jake sane while he was imprisoned; she gave him hope when his life seemed most bleak. My least favorite was the fact that Jake was forced to follow his father’s dictates, because they led to his imprisonment. There were some areas in the story where I would have to really focus to keep track of the story, but the majority of the book was easy to read. While the story is fiction, I would highly recommend this book as a way to learn real history, as it tells the reader far more about the life of a Patriot prisoner of war than any textbook I have ever studied.  I'm looking forward to reading her other books set during the American Civil War when I study that era.

Luke's Amazing Adventures

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  1. This sounds like a great book!

  2. Interesting read I'm sure!


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