The year is 1863, and fifteen-year-old Matt is struggling to run his family's Missouri farm after the death of his father. Tension is high in the region as both the Union army and the Confederate bushwhackers sruggle for control-- and against anyone who's against them. Matt's mother, a northerner, is intent that their family stays neutral, and therefore safe, but it's becoming increasingly harder to do so. Matt just wants to farm, but his best friend Jesse is bent on joining Quantrill's Raiders, and Matt just may come along. It's better than staying home and having his mother treat him like a child...or moving to be with her family in Pennsylvania. As time goes by, it becomes more and more apparent that Matt will have to make a choice-- and it may be one of life or death.
This is the best historical novel I've read in quite awhile. The relationships between Matt and Jesse, Matt and his mother, and Matt and his crippled older brother Clayton are all so dynamic that they keep the pages turning, and Matt's heart breaking dilemma of loyalty towards family and friends is truly gut-wrenching. The (surprising) afterwards makes a sequel seem unlikely, but I'd love to read one.