Crossing Stones, by Helen Frost. 2009: Francis Foster Books.
Crossing Stones is a phenomenal book. Coming of age during the beginning of World War One, eighteen-year-old Muriel Jorgenson examines her life, her beliefs, her hopes for the future, and the concepts of war, peace, and women’s roles in this Young Adult book. The book is written in free verse and cupped-hand sonnets, which I at first thought would annoy me but soon grew to appreciate immensely. (The author put a lot of thought into the structure; read her note at the end to learn more. I almost wish I’d read the note first, as I ended up going back through the book after doing so to more consciously understand and admire.)
Caught up in the build-up to WWI, Muriel is what many would have described a “headstrong” young woman; she’s not sure that she wants to follow the prescribed roles. Frost writes:
“My mind sets off at a gallop
down that twisty road, flashes by “Young Lady,”
hears the accusation in it – as if it’s
a crime just being young, and “Lady”
is what anyone can see I’ll never be
no matter how I try, and it’s obvious
that I’m not trying. “
(I can’t easily reproduce the poem’s format in this review … seeing it for yourself is just one of the reasons I strongly recommend reading this book!) Although it’s expected that Muriel will marry the boy next door, Frank, that’s not necessarily what she wants to do. When Frank, like so many other young men, joins the Army at the beginning of World War I, Muriel’s feelings about love, proper roles, and war become even more conflicted. Muriel travels to Washington, DC, to help her Aunt Vera recover from a suffrage hunger strike.
While there, Muriel joins in the picketing, helps at a settlement house, makes friends, and more. These experiences help solidify Muriel’s feelings that there are other possibilities for her, that it’s not wrong to question and challenge the status quo (even though both her high school teacher and the Espionage Act would have her believe differently. Yet she still struggles with questions of patriotism and loyalty: is it wrong to challenge the president during a time of war? Is it wrong to wonder, out loud, if war is the right choice?
“When someone takes it
seriously, it’s only to chastise the protesters:
unwomanly, unpatriotic, a thorn in the side of the president
when he has more important things (The War)
to think about.”
“Papa thinks I’m strong because
I speak up for my beliefs – but as the war
gets louder all around us, I’m becoming quieter.”
Traveling through the influenza epidemic, the previously-idyllic lives of two small town families and the larger-scale vision of Washington, DC, the women’s rights movement, the war in Europe, and more, this book covers hard topics and does so well. It puts personalities and faces on people and events from a time about which most teenagers know rather little, and is valuable for that as well as simply for the lyrically beautiful writing.
I highly recommend Crossing Stones. Get it. Read it. Enjoy it. And learn, too, a bit more about what it was like to be a woman in those very turbulent times, to believe in suffrage and in questions and in possibilities.
Tara Bloyd is the great-granddaughter of suffragist Edna Kearns. She is passionate about the suffrage movement and writes often for Suffrage Wagon News Channel about Votes for Women books for young audiences.