The premise for this book was very interesting. The idea of Civil War Era law being put into action today intrigued me. I didn't find the overall acceptance of the law in this book to be very realistic, but I could understand the desire a father would have to spare his son from the brutalities of war, and possibly from death.
Despite the intriguing idea of this book, it is one that I truly struggled with. I think readers will either identify with this book easily because they share similar views as the characters/author, or they will struggle with it as I did because I did not share some of those views.
What I struggled with most in reading this book were the attitudes and motivations of the characters. In the first few chapters, the main focus seems to be on Thomas Lane fearing that he will lose his youngest son in the war, just as his oldest son was. That, I found to be completely understandable. I connected with Tom's desire to spare his son from seeing the harsh side of war, especially since the book had already described the PTSD Tom suffered from after his own experiences in the military. The problems relating to the characters came, for me, when the focus changed from protecting his son to a more political message.
Tom's son, Donnie, ends up in the National Guard after getting in trouble with the law. As an alternative to legal punishment, Tom's convinces the judge to agree to Donnie joining the Reserves instead, hoping it will "straighten Donnie out." Another motivating factor for both of his son's joining the military was the college tuition assistance it provided. Both of these were valid reasons for Donnie to end up in the military, however, my problem with this came when Tom begins regretting these decisions and blaming the military. Tom seemed to know from the beginning that Donnie was not cut out for the military, yet he pushed him to join thinking the war would be end and Donnie would never actually see active duty. When that does not happen, he acted as if it was unfair that Donnie should be called up, that he was too young to face war. If those were his feelings, he never should have pushed Donnie to join the military in the first place.
Also, when it came to college tuition being a reason for joining, Tom goes from believing it is a good program to acting as if the military is tricking young people into joining, or preying on young people who can't find jobs elsewhere. The attitude from Tom and many other characters in the book seemed to be that of "I didn't sign up for this. I only joined for the college tuition." Be that as it may, they still signed up for the military. Being called up for active duty was a risk they took, and I had a very hard time sympathizing with that kind of sentiment. The military offers incentives to join, just like many companies do, but they are not tricking young kids into joining.
I also had a hard time with the fact that Donnie eventually agrees to letting his father take his place. Initially, he is upset because he knows others will think he is being a coward, but he admits that he never wanted to be a soldier and agrees to let his dad go instead. I didn't see the guilt I expected from Donnie over this decision. I would have thought that he would have been concerned with the fact that he was putting his own father in harms way, and would be responsible in large part for anything that happened to him. Yet, that wasn't the sentiment. He was proud of the situation even at the end of the book, and I had a difficult time with that.
Overall, the concept of this book was interesting, but I didn't find it to be very plausible. The author attempts to validate the story and Tom's decision with the idea that one man can change the world with his sacrifice, but I didn't find this to be realistic in this instance. This is a book that was written to specifically relay a political message that the author wanted to share, rather than to tell a story. Some readers will agree with the message and enjoy this book, and others will not.
In His Stead is available from:
You can connect with Judith Sanders online at: