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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Growing up is hard to do. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions, like choosing sides. Gilbert is feeling pressured by his father to stay on the family farm in Ohio and work alongside him. It’s the way things are done in the late nineteenth century. But Gilbert has other ideas. He wants to continue his education. He leaves the farm and moves into town, taking one job after another to save for his education. He finds himself caught in the middle of a Temperance Movement fight, one that becomes dangerously close to being deadly.
Karen Meyer’s novel, Choosing Sides, addresses some pretty complicated issues that a young person in the late nineteenth century might face. Education after a certain age wasn’t mandatory as it is today, and many people had to pay to go to high school. It was also an era of conflict between those who wanted the freedom to indulge in alcoholic beverages and those who believed it was evil; as well as the conflict that saw women fighting for the basic right to vote. Coming of age in this era was no more difficult than in other eras, just a little different. The plot is well developed as the reader follows Gilbert’s journey from the farm to life in the small town, where he finds various jobs to support himself and hopefully save for future education plans.
As things heat up with the newly opened saloon, Gilbert uses his sleuthing skills to help solve the mystery of who’s behind the vandalism. But he’s feeling a strong pull to return home to his family. Should he leave his new life in town? Return to work on the family farm and cast aside his dream of more schooling? And then there’s the new love in his life. Not easy decisions to make, especially when one tragedy after another forces his hand in a direction he never dreamed of following. A good historical fiction read with lots of conflict and coming of age issues that young readers will certainly relate to.