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Private Peaceful

by Michael Morpurgo
202 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Elanorelle

Beautiful story about brotherhood, but there is some heavier content to be wary of.

Plot

Thomas Peaceful, Tommo to his family and friends, lives a quiet life in Iddesleigh, Devon with his widowed mother and two older brothers, Big Joe and Charlie. Of his family, it's Charlie who is his protector, his friend, but things have changed since those times of contentment when being together wasn't a question hanging in the balance. When the Great War comes to their sleepy village, he joins up to fight alongside his brother.

It's night, five past ten, when we first meet Tommo and he's told himself not to fall asleep; he must remember his life, remember everything that has happened to him over the course of his nearly eighteen years because once it's dawn nothing will ever be the same again.

Morality

This is a coming-of-age story and the main character, Tommo, is finding out what is "right" and what is "wrong" for himself as he guides the reader through his memories of early childhood through to his early adulthood. He clearly wants to do the right thing but does not always make the correct decision. Still, the ideas of familial love, loyalty, duty, courage and the need to protect those who cannot fend for themselves are strong themes throughout.

Spiritual Content

Characters attend church. Life after death and Heaven are addressed several times. Doubt in God and prayers are expressed by the main character. Hymns are sung at a funeral and elsewhere. One character is compared to Christ on the cross.

Violence

While there is a lot of violence, as should be expected, it never goes into gory detail.
A dog is shot. A fight between two boys ensue and they both are given the rod six times. It is mentioned that a soldier is killed by a firing squad. A man is killed by a falling tree. There is talk of giving someone a “hiding” but it never happens. A young man is lashed to a wheel for insubordination. Two people are described as getting a shot to the head. Wounds of various sorts are given attention. A young girl dies due to shelling.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mentions of cigar and cigarette smoking. Some of the characters become drunk. A fifteen year old boy drinks to impress the older boys but doesn't like beer.

Sexual Content

A man is said to be “naked” but it is not treated in a sexual manner. It is suggested, though not explicitly written, that two persons have relations and a pregnancy comes of it. The same two marry soon afterward. Children undress completely to bathe/swim in a river. A soldier is said to make a dirty remark but the reader is left in the dark about what he said.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

H-ll, d-mn, and b-stard are used a few times. God's name is misused along with “Christ”. There is frequent name-calling. Boys blow raspberries. Tommo mentions a few mean pranks pulled on their mentally-challenged brother when they were younger and not aware.

Conclusion

Private Peaceful is a classic story about brotherhood in dire times and how close such bonds can be to the point of sacrificing one's own well-being. While it does have drawbacks in the way of content, it is touching and contemplative and may leave the reader with something to think about long afterwards.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: 13+

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