Elizabeth’s father has left for Australia, leaving her with an aunt she barely knows. But her aunt’s home feels oddly welcoming, especially the portrait of Elizabeth’s ancestor, Zee, hanging on the wall. Elizabeth resembles Zee, and she becomes fascinated with Zee’s story in the past. Elizabeth’s present-day story alternates with Zee’s, which takes place in upstate New York on the eve of the American Revolution. Zee’s family and community are torn apart by conflicting loyalties. She is left to survive on her own and even follow her father and brother into battle. As Elizabeth learns more about Zee and follows in her footsteps, the past becomes real.
The chapters alternate between Zee’s story (past tense and first person) and Elizabeth’s (present tense, third person). The elegant structure clearly signals to readers which time period they are in, although the shift can feel abrupt at times. Both girls are interesting characters who feel as though they fail at everything. Elizabeth is told that everyone has at least one special talent. As she learns more about Zee, Elizabeth discovers that her talent is storytelling. For her part, Zee finds herself to be brave and patriotic. Both these girls were very appealing, and Zee’s adventure sweeps you along through historic, sometimes horrific, events. Elizabeth’s story did not feel as fully developed (in particular her relationship with her aunt felt underwritten). The author’s note is very brief, and I would have liked to see suggestions for future reading. Overall, however, this is a fine addition to historical fiction about the American Revolution, particularly because Giff writes about battles that are less familiar to readers. Highly recommended for readers who like strong female protagonists and American history.