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Johnny Tremain (1943)

by Esther Forbes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Scholastic Book Guides (Grades 6-9)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,66471998 (3.79)153
After injuring his hand, a silversmith's apprentice in Boston becomes a messenger for the Sons of Liberty in the days before the American Revolution.

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» See also 153 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
This was an amazing book. Beautiful, powerful, heartbreaking, healing, inspiring, courageous, sweet, and so much more. It's not my favorite historical fiction or Revolutionary War book, and not quite as amazing as the best I've read - but it comes incredibly close. It was so wonderful. It was very, very well-written, and incredibly powerful, in characterization, plot, writing style, historical accuracy, setting, and theme.

I really, really love Johnny. For so many reasons. He's a fabulous character and protagonist. I was eager to experience his character arc, since he started out so proud and selfish and angry. And though I knew it would be good, it still blew me away. It was wonderful to watch him grow - and heal. A paragraph in a review can't sum up his wonderful mix of determination and courage, tenderness and heart, laughter and anger, bitterness and sweetness. I felt each emotion along with him, from joy and victory, to despair and shame, to horror and grief. I was completely caught up in his story, his adventures, his hopes and defeats. And his character arc was fabulous in all its fascinating, well-developed threads and facets. In addition to the parts relating to his inner healing, I loved seeing him realize he didn't want the riches and depravity of the Lyte family.

Every character in this book is incredibly vivid and real and alive. Johnny most of all, but each and every other character, as well. The author is one of those ones with the rare skill of choosing the exact right details of appearance, speech, and mannerisms to bring each person to life and make them walk off the page. I could see each and every character - and their appearances and movements - so clearly in my mind,down to the last detail, which only happens for me in those rare books with incredibly skillful characterization.

I loved how even the nicest characters were flawed, but still sweet. And how the nasty characters were despicable - but still human, understandable, and easy to sympathize with. Fictional characters and real-life historical figures were equally vivid and real. I felt like I knew them just as well as Johnny did. Paul Revere most of all, for me - he was my favorite - but all the others too. The author really made me care about them. One of my very favorite characters was Doctor Warren - another character who seemed so real and wonderful to me. I have a special place in my heart for kind and skilled medical characters, and I became more attached than I knew. I was really heartbroken to find out that in real life, he died a mere few months after the book's end.

I really, really loved Johnny's friendship with Rab, and his friendship with Cilla. Of course I adored both Rab and Cilla so very much, though I adored Johnny far more. Cilla was so sweet and saucy, and I loved her grit and everything else. And Rab was so wonderful, almost perfect, but still flawed, which I love. I loved his calm and unflappability, his bravery and determination, his unfailing understanding, and the way he helped everyone he met - especially Johnny, for Rab was the one who helped him most to heal. And I both loved and was alarmed by his fierce, dark side that takes joy in a fight. I loved seeing them through Johnny's changing perspective, and of course, in addition to the individuals, I was caught up and invested in the highs and lows of both of Johnny's friendships with them. And then there were things with those characters that brought me heartbreak - one in particular, even though I had been spoiled and was prepared. It really tore me up, unsurprisingly. I love the understated way the author wrote things, and Johnny's understated reactions - so much more powerful than melodrama.

The author made the historical setting of pre-Revolution Boston come to life, just as much as the people involved. I felt I was there, and could see and smell and feel and hear it all. The tense, explosive air, like a powder keg about to burst into flame, was tangible. And even the peaceful, quiet moments in nature swept over me so vividly. I loved Johnny's up-close view of the events going on, and the men who made them happen - and Johnny's own vital part in those events. The author made me believe it really did happen that way - from the words of the Sons of Liberty in private, to Johnny's secret spying. It really helped me understand the events that started the war, and the opening battles. And all the intricate machinations that brought them about. Also, the author made both sides so human. She didn't shy away from honestly portraying the horrible violence on both sides - for the Patriots were often cruel and violent, as well as the British. I really appreciated how Johnny was bothered and even sickened by the violence - but he was courageous and strong and determined, and chose to face danger and the threat of death over and over, even though he was deeply afraid. I respect that more than someone who is unaffected by fear. In addition to portraying the callous, unfeeling, often extreme cruelty of the British Redcoats, the author showed their humanity, and the fact that they were often pleasant and even nice, rather than being a one-dimensional caricature of evil. I know that both sides of them were true to history, and I'm glad it was reflected in such a balanced and vivid way in the book.

I also really, really adore the author's portrayal of the cause of freedom and the brave men and women who fought and died for that cause - and were determined and ready and willing to do both. The author's writing makes me feel the hope and glory and fiery light of it, even as she portrays its messiness. It reminds me how proud I am of my country and of my ancestors who began this country and fought to make and keep it free, in the 1700s and over the last 250 years. I could say more on that part of the book, but it's hard to describe the poignancy and power of that aspect of it. "A man can stand up . . ."

Above all, this is a story of Johnny's heartbreak and hope and healing. And that is what I loved most about it. (Some spoilers ahead in this section.) I have a special place in my heart for characters who become crippled or disabled, and have to keep pressing on through life, and must heal in different ways. And I identify with that experience, since it's similar in some ways to my own - the characters who are physically crippled or have a physical disability often go through a similar experience to what I've been through with my own less-physical disability. I felt for Johnny even more than I would otherwise, because I've had my own life, dreams, hopes, and career seemingly destroyed by what I've been through. This book was especially well-written in that aspect of the story, as well as nearly every other way. It was heartwrenching to watch Johnny as he went through such a terrible event, and its aftermath. It was also interesting to watch a proud, selfish character go through that, and the character development was fabulous. I loved watching Johnny grow and change for the better because of it. And I was rooting for him to find life and healing and friendship. (More spoilers ahead.) Halfway through the book, the author intentionally gave me hope that his disability could be healed and reversed. I hoped for that so much, especially after the book portrayed his horrible expecting as a punishment for pride, and the just judgement of God - which seemed too legalistic to me. But that gave me hope, and I wanted the book to end with physical healing. I didn't know if it would, but I hoped it might. But later on, I realized that far more important than physical healing, Johnny needed healing in other ways - and he was being healed in those ways. And even more than that - even if he was never healed, and was crippled for life - Johnny and the reader both learned and saw that he could do great and meaningful and important things, even though he was unable to shoot a musket. And that's just as important than the hope of physical healing. I really loved that he did receive the opportunity for physical healing in the end - but first he had to heal in other ways, and I was so glad he did. And I was overjoyed when his physical healing came at the end. It's healing and hopeful to read about, for me in particular.

I was so satisfied by the ending, for the above reasons as well as many others. I really love bittersweet endings, and this one was perfect. I loved how it looked forward at the war and victory to come, and Johnny's new role in it - taking up the fight that others had already died for, to give birth to a new land of freedom that Johnny loved and believed in and belonged to.

4.5 stars

I highly recommend this book to fans of quality young adult historical fiction, young teens and up. I'm so glad I tried this book again on the high recommendations of so many Goodreads friends, and one friend in particular. I enjoyed it from the beginning, but I thought for a while it would be 4 stars. It surprised me in that I enjoyed it more and more as the book went on - my rating grew higher, and the book quietly snuck up on me and became a favorite without me even realizing it.

Content Overview:

I wouldn't recommend this to anyone below the age of a preteen, or to a sensitive preteen. It's best for young teens and up.

- Though understated and never graphic in the least, the book contains mention of violence, death, killing, execution, wounded soldiers, torture (e.g. tarring and feathering), peril/danger/threat of death, and other violence.
- There's very mild swearing, limited to quite a few instances of h**l and d**n from British soldiers (never anyone else), and mention of other swearing and oaths that are omitted from the dialogue.
- The book contains no sexual content, but some mild romantic elements. It talks briefly several times about people falling in love, marrying, and eloping, and includes arranged betrothals between two young teenagers and between a young girl and a middle-aged man. A young man enjoys dancing with girls, and he courts a girl he seems interested in. A young man is jealous of another young man paying attention to a girl he cares about. A teenaged boy has a crush on or infatuation with a beautiful woman in her twenties - he merely thinks she's beautiful - but it was handled well by the author, was never inappropriate, and was never anything that made me uncomfortable in the least.

All of this is very understated and appropriate but sometimes blunt.

Reviewed January 2019

Reread February/March 2020
( )
  Aerelien | Mar 23, 2020 |
Newbery Medal 1944. Story of the days leading up to the start of the American Revolution. Teaches the difference between Whigs (US) and Tories (Brit) and the fact that it was "Two by sea". ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
AGE 13-16
  kingwoodbible | Aug 25, 2019 |
I have to admit I was a little disappointed with this one.
Johnny Tremain is an apprentice silversmith in Boston, just before the American Revolution begins. He is a particularly talented, but also particularly conceited young man. He is betrothed to his master's daughter, and destined to take over the silver shop when his master retires. But then he has an accident that ruins his right hand. He will never be able to do silver work... the only thing for which he has trained. He spends some time aimlessly wandering about town, before eventually getting associated with some of the Whigs about town... those who were rousing resentment in America against the British. And this is where the book weakens.
The first portion of the story is completely focused on young Johnny Tremain. We learn his strengths and weaknesses. We're eager for him to grow into a better man than he is as we are introduced to him. But the story drifts more and more away from Johnny and begins to feel like more of a history lesson. Yes, Johnny is present and participating, but very little of what happens in the second half of the book actually has anything particularly to do with him. It seems like he is merely the vehicle for telling the historical story of the beginning of the American war for independence. Some of the things the reader is eager to learn about Johnny are simply abandoned altogether, and other things are answered in a rushed way before heading off to more of the revolution story.
The American Revolution is certainly a worthy and fascinating story. But when I picked up a YA novel, I was hoping for more of a story about a young man, and less of a story about Sam Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock. ( )
  fingerpost | May 7, 2019 |
Fourteen-year-old Johnny Tremain, an apprentice silversmith with a bright future, injures his hand in an accident, forcing him to look for other work. In his new job as a horse boy, he encounters John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Dr. Joseph Warren. Soon Johnny is involved in pivotal events from the Boston Tea Party to the shots fired at Lexington.
  wichitafriendsschool | Feb 5, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 71 (next | show all)
Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature)
To read Johnny Tremain is to live through two dramatic years of our country's history, and to see these great events through the shrewd eyes of an observant boy. After injuring his hand, this silversmith's apprentice in Boston becomes a messenger for the Sons of Liberty in the days before the American Revolution. His new role brings Johnny Tremain in contact with the great men of history: John Hancock, John and Samuel Adams, and other Boston patriots. The story leads up to the Tea Party and Battle of Lexington. Ward has sharpened the drama of the story by adding full-page illustrations. 1944 Newbery Award.
added by kthomp25 | editChildren's Literature, Marilyn Courtot
Recorded Books (Recorded Books, LLC.)
There was a purpose in what happened to Johnny Tremain, but he couldn’t see it at the time. Johnny had been Mr. Lapham’s star pupil, a clever, industrious apprentice silversmith, if not always well liked, at least envied by all who knew him around Hancock’s Wharf. His skills had even been admired by Paul Revere, the finest silversmith in Boston. But when Johnny seriously burns his hand in a furnace, he finds himself crippled, without an occupation, and with no means of taking care of himself. It seems that fate has literally dealt him a cruel hand. Soon, trouble reaches Johnny’s life in a new way. Swept along in the tide of events leading to the Boston Tea Party and the first skirmishes of Lexington and Concord, Johnny finds a job as message-carrier for the Sons of Liberty. As young and old men alike make sacrifices for a new country, Johnny prepares to take his own stand in the cause for freedom.
added by kthomp25 | editRecorded Books

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Esther Forbesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cameron, ScottCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCurdy, MichaelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stauffer, Ruth M.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ward, LyndIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Pamela, Emily, John and Molly Taylor
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On rocky islands gulls woke.
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This novel has been used three times by our seventh and eighth grade language arts teachers within the past 10 years. It has not been used recently as we have been using SpringBoard curriculum which comes with its own embedded novel units: Tangerine for th grade and The Giver for 8th grade. My experience with Johnny Tremain has been positive partly due to the extensive teacher materials we have to accompany it. However, one year, we spent too much time (like six weeks) on the novel and we were all worn out and tired of it. We would also show the Disney film to cap off our study and to provide visuals such as the early printing press. Nowadays with much easier access to visuals and primary sources, I imagine the Disney film would be an "if there was time" addition.
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