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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review--Highland Rebel, by Sally Watson

So, this blog was supposed to be about reading and writing as well as life. I was chugging along, my bookshelf filled with serious lit waiting for me to read and comment, and then, bam, Philando Castile was murdered, and I stopped being able to read them. 

For a long time, I couldn't read much of anything but news accounts and commentaries. I graduated to children's books, reading to the kids. Then, children's books for my own self--they tend to be compact, easy to digest, and they will contain a single kernel of wisdom that I can take with me for the day or the week.

Take Highland Rebel, a library discard published by Sally Watson in 1954 as part of a lengthy, wandering family saga focused on Scotland, moving to the US with the birth of our nation, and then heading west. 

Highland Rebel, one of the earliest in this series, gave me a romantic, life-long love of all things Scottish, along with a gauze-covered notion of Charles Edward Stewart and the "Scottish Soul," something Watson is big on in this book. It also filled me with longing to dress as a boy and save my prince. 

Another book in the series, The Hornet's Nest, is my go-to book to get kids interested in what led to the American Revolution, and her book, Jade, about Mary Read and Anne Bonney, hooked me on serious research into pirates years before Pirates of the Caribbean. Through the next decades, Watson's  novels lead us through Scotland's witch hunt years, Witch of the Glens, and then, they get cutesy, as we wade through the Puritans, and past somebody (of course) dressing up as a boy to dress up as a girl to work with William Shakespeare; and up to a sad hearted girl named Felicity, who gains some spunk and backbone while befriending Chief Seattle and learning to thrive in a log cabin in the Pacific Northwest. (First titled Poor Felicity, this is now, unfortunately, named The Delicate Pioneer.)

You can no longer find Watson's books on many library shelves, which is a real shame. They all have active, decisive female characters confronted with real challenges, and their male characters are strong as well. The women's challenges are not in any way limited to getting the boy or avoiding sexual assaults.  Now back in print, they are all well-researched, though as a parent, I do work to remove some of the historical gauze. Watson herself is ninety-two and probably still writing--her latest novel's release was in 2012. I request them at every library I visit. 

And this week, reading Highland Rebel gave me a tidbit to hang onto, from heroine Lauren's Aunt Elspeth--"Tis not what life does to you that matters, but what you do with it." (I may not have quoted her correctly--the book is still upstairs next to my bed.) Yes, this is simplistic, and yes, I know that issues like depression or, say, Krystal Nacht, can make this statement moot.  But sometimes, the simplest of concepts can be the most helpful in complicated times. 

Roll on, Children's books. Through little ones and the ideas they need to learn and grow, maybe we can save the world. 

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