Everything We Lose

Written by Annette Oppenlander
Review by Jo Ann Butler

The Civil War is a time of great sundering – the U.S. violently torn in half, and families divided by a vast struggle over slavery and states’ rights. Personal loss comes in many forms as Adam Brown, a 15-year-old Tennessee farm boy, learns. A letter from the U.S. War Department informs the Brown family that Adam’s father was killed in the war’s first battle. His dream of veterinary school is obliterated, and Adam’s life becomes a struggle to hold onto the family’s farm.

One bright spot in Adam’s life is Tip, an enslaved friend. However, Tip’s master thrashes the teen when he leaves his plantation to comfort Adam. As bad as that beating is, Nathan Billings, the master’s sadistic son, is even bigger trouble. Adam defends Tip against Billings’ savagery, only to accidentally lay him low. Believing that Billings is dead, Adam joins the Union army under an assumed name. With his life in danger, Tip also flees north. The friends are parted, seemingly forever. As the title indicates, both young men face huge losses, but they also have much to gain.

Annette Oppenlander’s Everything We Lose follows Adam’s and Tip’s diverging lives across America’s Midwest. Her description of Tip’s abusive owners is particularly vivid, but I might question why Tip was repeatedly tortured. Severe beatings made an example of runaway slaves after recapture, but what slave owner – even a sadist – would risk valuable “property” for fun? Nevertheless, Ms. Oppenlander’s rich, gritty descriptions are a joy to read. Her touching story moves along quickly but will keep you in suspense until the final pages.