My rating: ★★★★☆
Introducing the newest protagonist in the American Girl lineup, Caroline Abbot, a witness to the War of 1812.
(Personally, I was hoping for an Asian American instead of another blue-eyed blonde, but I’ll begrudgingly accept the war’s 200th anniversary as an reasonable excuse.)
Caroline’s father is a shipbuilder, and Caroline’s dream is to become a ship captain and sail around the world. Her cousin Lydia has more traditional female goals: get married, live in a nice house, and have six daughters.
At almost nine, Caroline is, like all the other girls of the American Girl series, a little unbelievable for her age. She’s smart, strong-willed, and brave, and she’s about to face a war in which she will play a significant role for her local community.
In Meet Caroline, we are introduced to yet another blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl, which is somewhat disappointing when there are at least a few ethnicities American Girl hasn’t covered yet. But there’s a reason for it; 2012 is the 200th anniversary of the onset of the War of 1812, and Caroline Abbot is a firsthand witness to the fighting at the Canadian/American border.
When the war breaks out after months of tension and uncertainty, Caroline, her father, and her cousins Oliver and Lydia are sailing one of the great lakes on the ship Caroline’s father built for Oliver when they are set upon by British soldiers. Unfortunately for them, Oliver’s ship is sailing an American flag, and so it doesn’t matter to the soldiers that Oliver is a Canadian citizen.
Though Caroline and Lydia are both escorted to their homes on opposite shores of the lake, Oliver and Caroline’s father are taken prisoner along with their ship.
And here arises a wonderful aspect of history. In the absence of Caroline’s father, Caroline’s mother is left to manage his shipbuilding business. Her workers clearly doubt she can do it, but she proves them wrong with a little initial help from Caroline. It’s great to see a independently capable female character appear in an American Girl book as a mother—normally the mothers are relegated to exclusively maternal roles, with the daughters being chastised for their independence. So Caroline’s mother is a quite refreshing character.
Caroline herself is a pleasant surprise. From the cover of the book, she looks like a very feminine child, with a pretty face, pretty blonde curls, and pretty pink dress. Wonderfully, though, Caroline doesn’t seem to have any trouble at all balancing her femininity with her less dainty traits. She sails in her skirts and maintains a close relationship with her father; she stitches and cooks but dreams of becoming a sea-captain; she patiently learns to perform the household chores expected of a wife, but she spends enough time at her father’s shipbuilding business to help her mother there when the time comes.
In other words, Caroline is commendable as an American Girl in that she balances society’s expectations for her with her hopes for herself.
Meanwhile, she’s also brave and intuitive. When confronted with the dangerous situation at the climax of the book, it’s her quick thinking and self-sacrifice that saves the day.
From what I’ve seen of her so far, I think I’m going to quite like reading the rest of Caroline’s series. She might even find herself among my favorite American Girls, which I could never have expected when I first glanced at the cover of Meet Caroline.
What we have here, folks, is an instance of “never judge a book by its cover”.
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