Review: Neverhome by Laird Hunt

neverhome“She calls herself Ash, but that’s not her real name. She is a farmer’s faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. NEVERHOME tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.
Laird Hunt’s dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?
In gorgeous prose, Hunt’s rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts.” – Publisher Summary

Over four hundred women fought in the Civil War. Inspired by their experiences, Neverhome by Laird Hunt tells the story of a young wife named Constance who cuts her hair, binds her breasts, and leaves her husband to care for their Indiana farm as she sets off to fight for the Union in 1862. Of her husband, Bartholemew, she says:

“I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic.”

Soon, however, Constance makes it clear that it isn’t just protecting her gentle husband that has spurred her on toward battle:

“If I didn’t stay to see some of the fight, I would forever be filled with the echoes of regret and the ague of remorse.”

And thus, Constance becomes Ash Thompson, official soldier for the Union cause in the War Between the States. Ash manages to both blend in and stand out during her tour of duty. Despite her attempts to maintain as low a profile as possible, her sharpshooting skills and gallantry towards citizens brings unwanted attention. She is awarded the name, “Gallant Ash” as her fellow soldiers tell long-reaching tales of her actions and even write a folk song in her namesake. Despite this attention and her constant fear of discovery, Ash only has a handful of brushes with people who suspect her true identity throughout the majority of her tale.

Part of the beauty of this novel is the writing itself – narrated by Ash/Constance, it is simple and real, placed on the page for readers to feed upon with hunger and ease. Ash is the ultimate war heroine: strong, independent, capable – yet shrouded with a fragility that reveals itself when you least expect it. The obvious love between Ash and Bartholemew raises many questions as to why she left in the first place and why she remains away from home for so long; this turns out to be the true mystery of the story, which is discovered piece by piece through memories, letters, and dreams.

Neverhome is a stunning and moving tale of love, loss, betrayal, and the ever-so-long road to forgiveness that Ash must travel before she can return to her husband and her home. This is one of my favorite reads of 2014, by far. It is definitely a story that will stay with me for quite a time to come, and I urge anyone who comes across it to pick it up immediately and READ.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt. Buy it, read it, love it.

5 stars

Source: Little, Brown & Co. {via NetGalley}

 

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