Historical Fiction: My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier
1. Collier, C. & Collier J. L. (2005). My brother Sam is dead. Bloomindale, IL: Scholastic.
2. Summary: Tim Meeker has always looked up to his older brother, Sam. After Sam returns from college, he informs his family that he plans to join the American Revolution by enlisting in the Rebel army. Sam’s parents, who are British supporters, are appalled. Tim soon realizes that he will have to choose a side- between the Revolutionaries and Sam or the Loyalists and his father.
3. Critical Analysis: My Brother Sam is Dead was a Newbery Honor book in 1974. The story is told from young Tim’s point-of-view. The story spans four years, where Tim grows from a boy to a young man. Tim is in the middle between his father, Mr. Meeker, a strong and stubborn man, and Sam, his older brother who is full of fresh ideas and youthful vigor. The majority of the novel focuses on this triangle. While Sam and Mr. Meeker seem to be constantly at odds, Tim is walking the fence between who he yearns to be like. “I asked myself what Sam would do if it were him…he'd do something daring. The most daring thing to do would be to track down Father…Then it came to me that even though rescuing Father was the daring thing to do, it wasn't the smartest thing. So I asked myself another question: what would Father do?” (p. 156). Shuffling between Sam’s brash, courage and father’s practicality, Tim learns to judge situations himself and act in his own way.
Because this novel is set during the American Revolution, it is an excellent source of credible information. The story is revolving around one family’s experience with war; nonetheless, the story has a plethora of factual innuendos that show life during the 18th century. For example, there is a scene where Tim is in church and is explaining that the upper balcony is where the lesser people (blacks, Native Americans, and children) sit. This small statement opens the readers eyes to daily life in the American Colonies. In an epilogue, the Collier brothers explain their desire for historical accuracy. They go on to say that the characters and setting were inspired by actual people and places.
Readers have mixed reviews about My Brother Sam is Dead. Posted in Goodreads, Stephanie Holmes calls this book excellent, “The joy of love and the tragedy of death, with the details of the history of our country are all in this book.” And, I have to agree with Stephanie. The book is filled with themes and motifs that most YA books are lacking. To top it off, the book is a historical fiction novel that teaches while readers hear the story of Tim and Sam. Another Goodreads’ user, Adam, believes that the story is lacking a plot. I couldn’t disagree more. The plot is war and its effects on the Meeker family. So much is happening in this story.
Interestingly, the book has been challenged quite frequently in public and school libraries. According to an article by the National Coalition Against Censorship, the book has been challenged due to its inappropriate language, mainly the use of the word “damn”. However, the book has remained on the shelves because of its gripping story of one family’s experience with war and the courage it takes to grow into one’s own beliefs.
Adam. (2007, October 21). [Review of My brother Sam is dead by C. Collier & J.L. Collier]. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/122756.My_Brother_Sam_Is_Dead.
Holmes, S. (2008, January 13). [Review of My brother Sam is dead by C. Collier & J.L. Collier]. Retrieved from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/122756.My_Brother_Sam_Is_Dead.
National Coalition Against Censorship. (2009, February 26). ‘My brother Sam is dead’ kept in Muscogee school libraries. Blogging Censorship. Retrieved from http://ncacblog.wordpress.com/2009/02/26/my-brother-sam-is-dead-kept-in-muscogee-school-libraries/.