Thomas Peaceful’s life has not been easy. His father died in a logging accident while saving his life. Thomas's close-knit family endures much hardship at the hands of his father's former employer and a great-aunt. Thomas also has to protect his mentally challenged oldest brother, Big Joe. Through the trials and tribulations of his young life, Thomas has his older brother and best friend Charlie by his side.
During his first day of school, Thomas endures the harsh criticisms of a mean teacher named Mr. Munnings, as well as a schoolyard bully who Charlie has to fight in defense of his younger brother. Thomas feels guilty that Charlie does this for him, especially when he hasn't been forthcoming about the events surrounding their father's death. Thomas doesn't have to rely on only Charlie for an ally, however, when a girl named Molly befriends him and Charlie. Soon, the three are inseparable and a strong bond is formed that lasts for many years. Unfortunately, darkness soon follows.
When Mrs. Peaceful must look after the Colonel's sick wife in order to prevent them from being homeless, the Peaceful brothers are left in the care of Grandma Wolf. "Grandma Wolf" is Charlie and Thomas's nickname for their mother's mean great-aunt. The Colonel is very much like Grandma Wolf. Time passes, and soon their mother returns home permanently following the death of the Colonel's wife, whose last wish was that her husband would look after the Peaceful family. Events that follow show that the Colonel is much more of an enemy than a friend, and the Peacefuls are faced with more dilemmas as the years go by.
These dilemmas result in a so-called bad reputation that follows the two younger Peaceful brothers, mainly Charlie. The Peacefuls have to deal with the reality of almost losing another family member and the changes brought by World War I. These changes cause both brothers to sign up for the service --- for different reasons For Charlie, it's a grave matter of keeping the family together as outside forces threaten to break them apart. For Thomas, it's a personal conquest of his fears and to prove to himself, above all else, that he isn't a coward.
The only problem that seems to be stopping them is age. Thomas is two weeks away from turning sixteen and is considered too young to join the military. Charlie helps him and, upon signing up, declares they are twins, even though there is a three-year age difference between them. Being considered twins doesn't seem to matter when Thomas discovers that many other enlistees are underage as well. They have to go through long and rigorous training from a brutal drill sergeant named Hanley, who seems to have a personal vendetta against Charlie after he defends Thomas during one of Hanley's vicious methods of training.
The Private Peacefuls are quite relieved when they hear news that they are finally going to the front. They will be saying goodbye to Sgt. Hanley and will get to witness some of the action WWI has created. Nothing could have prepared them for the horrors they experience firsthand. As Thomas sees the dangers that surround them, he wonders why they are there at all. His biggest concern, though, is whether or not he and Charlie will ever get to see their family again.
PRIVATE PEACEFUL gives readers a unique look at what was called “the great war to end all wars.” I feel that by telling this story through a first-person narrative, you can get a better sense of the hopes and fears that a young soldier had while he experienced the horrors of a war that no one seemed to really understand. I found the book to be interesting and shocking, both on and away from the front. Even though this is considered a work of fiction, I hope that readers will develop more of an interest in the history of World War I.
Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle on October 18, 2011
- Publication Date: October 1, 2004
- Genres: Historical Fiction
- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Scholastic Press
- ISBN-10: 0439636485
- ISBN-13: 9780439636483