Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Free Passage is an historical coming of age novel for young adults written by J.R. McRae and illustrated by Terry Hand. His commanding officers were stunned when Dane Maguire abandoned his post during combat and later handed in his commission. The heroic soldier was an inspiration to all who came in contact with him, which made his subsequent court martial and mandatory death sentence that much harder for all concerned. Dane stood there in front of the court and offered no excuse or justification. Despite his distinguished service and leadership, they had no option. Dane didn’t care. Something had happened on that field of battle which tore at everything that he held dear. He had no choice but to lay down his arms and surrender to the harsh field justice. McRae’s historical tale follows the lives of young adults whose lives were forever changed by the Civil War. Dane Maguire is one of them. Girl, a deaf-mute slave, who was never given a name, but found love in the least expected place, is another.
J.R. McRae’s historical coming of age novel, Free Passage, is a spellbinding and gripping story about young survivors of the Civil War. While I enjoy history and historical fiction, my focus has always been more on the first and second World Wars rather than on the American Civil War, and I was totally blown away by the power and intensity of these young adult tales. Each story radiates from that tale of the two brothers, Dane and Paul Maguire, yet each of the characters the reader meets assumes center stage at some point in the story. McRae’s heroes pop up in the least likely places in the hostile and frightening terrain of the post-Civil War years.
My favorite character would have to be Herr Adolphus Schmidt, an itinerant tinker who helps Girl, who reminds him of his own missing daughter, find Dane’s Uncle Pelletier. But there are so many unforgettable characters and stories in this superb and moving novel. Terry Hand’s illustrations are masterful, from that first grim court martial scene to the portrait of a shivering Minna after she escapes from the steamboat; each panel fleshes out the characters and their stories beautifully. Free Passage brings history to life brilliantly. It’s most highly recommended.