The Civil War of Amos Abernathy

by Michael Leali (Author)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

A heartfelt debut novel about a boy's attempt to find himself in the history he loves--perfect for fans of Dear Sweet Pea and From the Desk of Zoe Washington.

Amos Abernathy lives for history. Literally. He's been a historical reenactor nearly all his life. But when a cute new volunteer arrives at his Living History Park, Amos finds himself wondering if there's something missing from history: someone like the two of them.

Amos is sure there must have been LGBTQ+ people in nineteenth-century Illinois. His search turns up Albert D. J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier who might have identified as a trans man if he'd lived today. Soon Amos starts confiding in his newfound friend by writing letters in his journal--and hatches a plan to share Albert's story with his divided twenty-first century town. It may be an uphill battle, but it's one that Amos is ready to fight.

Told in an earnest, hilarious voice, this love letter to history, first crushes, and LGBTQ+ community will delight readers of Ashley Herring Blake, Alex Gino, or Maulik Pancholy.

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Kirkus Reviews

An educational title that may appeal to young historians.


Starred Review
 It's a valuable addition to the still-slender body of middle-school literature with queer content. 

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 5 Up--A well-written coming-of-age novel that encompasses many valuable topics--discrimination, teen relationships, friendship, the LGBTQIA+ community, and underrepresented history into one wonderful story. Amos, who is white, volunteers as a reenactor at the Living History Park along with his best friend, Chloe, who is Black. There they meet Ben, who becomes a fast friend to the duo and a burgeoning romanntic interest for Amos. But their relationship faces some challenges, including Ben's religious family. Amos tells his story from his own point of view interspersed with letters to Albert D.J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier who, in the present day, might have identified as a trans man. Amos learns about Albert while he is researching LBGTQIA+ Americans throughout history, seeking representation of people like him from the past and hoping to win the Living History Park's exhibition competition. Readers will feel the tension as Amos and his friends fight discrimination to bring the project to fruition. Leali's character development is superb. The story begins in the present day, but readers learn of the events of the past year in Amos's commentary as well as his notes to Albert, which then converge again in the present. While this technique is insightful, the time shifts may prove slightly confusing to some readers. VERDICT Overall, an entertaining and engaging read with diverse characters and subject matter. A necesary addition to all collections seeking heartwarming tales of first crushes, and the importance of centering marginalized history.--April Crowder

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

In an earnest debut that explores representation in the past and present, a gay 13-year-old history fan in Illinois works to center LGBTQ voices while competing to design a historical exhibit. Long a junior volunteer at the living history park that his mother runs, white Amos Abernathy feels like "the nineteenth century is in my blood," though he acknowledges that "life back then wasn't easy." Amos is particularly knowledgeable about Abraham Lincoln, and when he meets Ben Oglevie, a white homeschooled boy from a religious family, he's drawn in by Ben's grasp of Lincoln facts. A crush follows, and then ongoing "complete and utter silence" from closeted Ben. Meanwhile, as the park grapples with matters of historical inclusion and erasure--resulting in Amos learning about Union soldier and trans man Albert D.J. Cashier--Amos's best friend, Chloe Thompson, works to become the park's first Black female blacksmith. Alternating between Amos's candid 2021 letters to Albert and a first-person accounting of 2022 events, Leali's slow-moving narrative proves a sometimes didactically rendered but still engaging contribution to the canon of historically focused LGBTQ novels. An author's note details the story's beginnings. Ages 8-12. Agent: Sarah Crowe, Pippin Properties. (June)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

In his first novel, Leali has done an excellent job of telling an exceedingly timely story. It's a valuable addition to the still-slender body of middle-school literature with queer content. — Booklist (starred review)

An irresistible debut filled with heart and humor. Here is a book that doesn't rewrite history so much as its broaden its scope, bringing into focus unsung heroes, in a coming of age story that celebrates inclusivity and bravery and pride and love. Sure to connect with young readers and broaden their imaginations about the past, the present, and the future that is theirs to fight for. — Soman Chainani, New York Times bestselling author of the School for Good and Evil series

Heartfelt, humorous, and hopeful, The Civil War of Amos Abernathy affirms that some causes are worth fighting for—whether social justice or a first crush is on the line. Don't be surprised if irrepressible Amos inspires a new wave of changemakers. — Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Lambda Literary Award-winning author of Hazel's Theory of Evolution and Drum Roll, Please

A testament to the power of friendship and conviction, Michael Leali's thoughtful, delightful debut is a gem for any reader beginning to ask 'Why is the world this way? And how can I make it better?' — Adib Khorram, award-winning author of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

A compelling debut, brimming with charming characters who take responsibility for making the world around them more honest and more inclusive. — Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal, New York Times Bestselling Co-Authors of I'M NOT DYING WITH YOU TONIGHT and WHY WE FLY

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
May 02, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV005000 - Juvenile Fiction | Boys & Men
JUV031000 - Juvenile Fiction | Performing Arts | General
JUV039020 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Adolescence
JUV016200 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | United States - Civil War Period (1850-1877)
JUV060000 - Juvenile Fiction | LGBT
Library of Congress categories
19th century
United States
Civil War, 1861-1865
Epistolary fiction
Gay teenagers
Sexual minorities
Transgender military personnel
Cashier, Albert D. J.
Gay people
Historical reenactments

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