Paulsen, Gary. 1998. SOLDIER'S HEART. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf. ISBN: 0-440-22838-7
Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen captures the essence of what makes a good historical fiction read. This book enlightens the reader on the grimness of everyday life that civil war soldiers had to endure. Told through the eyes of Charley Goddard, the young protagonist of the story, the reader gets a solid sense for the horror and atrociousness that the soldiers had to endure. There is no sugarcoating the terrors in this emotional tour of the civil war. The details imparted in the book are accurate and trustworthy. Mr. Paulsen includes a bibliography in the back of the book with a list of selected sources. He also includes an author's note, explaining that the book is a historical fiction. He honestly states that "I have had to take some minor liberties with timing" (103).
The reader feels Charleys excitement as he marches off to a war, unaware of the horrendous acts that he and his fellow soldiers are about to execute and endure. The trepidation that Charley feels after the first battle is expressed with these words "vomited, heaving until he was empty and then heaving some more, until he felt his stomach would come up, until he felt his very soul would leave him"(26). Ultimately, Charley, in a sense, does lose his soul. A victim of soldier's heart, now known as post-traumatic stress syndrome, the book intimates that he considers committing suicide with a 36-caliber cap-and-ball-revolver. He thinks that the gun is the prettiest thing he has ever seen. The last sentence in the book states "watching the water go by, thinking of all the pretty things..." Paulsen is subtly giving the reader a clue that Charley thinks of nothing other than guns and the fact that he cannot shake the horrors he has been a witness to. The feeling that is hardest for the reader to associate with, for any child or non-veteran, is the soldier's heart. Becoming mute and unfeeling towards the mutilation and death is an inconceivable phenomena that no human should have to endure.
The reader, swept away into a profoundly sad period of American history, will finish the book with emotion, knowledge and a great appreciation for the men who endured the horrors of the Civil War.