This coming of age novel begins with a forbidden romance. Henry is a junior in high school, working at a stable when he meets Mercy. Her family considers him to be from the wrong side of the tracks, but the two fall deeply in love.
What begins in a romantic vein becomes a dark story of Henry’s experience as a Marine fighting in the Korean War; the “Coldest Night” refers to the terrible, freezing temperatures he endures there.
Robert Olmstead’s writing is both wonderfully direct and nearly poetic in its descriptive powers. Personally, I am a big fan of Coal Black Horse. For all that Cold Mountain is considered an important novel of the Civil War, I would argue that Coal Black Horse is more engaging, more intense, and more likely to find an appreciative young adult audience. I recommend giving it a try, if you haven’t already.
Adult/High School–Seventeen year-old Henry Childs is preceded by generations of courageous men. His great-grandfather, Robey, introduced in Coal Black Horse (2007) fought in the Civil War, and his grandfather, Napoleon Childs, led a search to capture Pancho Villa in Far Bright Star (2009, both Algonquin). Henry is a solitary boy when Mercy, daughter of a local judge, bursts into his life with a fierce desire to make him her own. To escape her disapproving family, the pair runs off in a doomed effort to create a life together. After Mercy is violently reclaimed by her family, Henry joins the Marines, arriving in Korea just in time to take part in the terrible battle at the Chosin Reservoir. Olmstead writes with a distinct masculine voice, using terse dialogue and little overt emotional affect. Emotional tension, however, burns just beneath the surface. It is his descriptive writing that takes center stage, particularly during Henry’s time in Korea. The bloody fighting, set in the stark winter landscape, creates a searing visceral experience for readers. Teens who appreciate the sparse dialogue and vivid, violent images of Cormac McCarthy’s writing will find this novel compelling. The focus on the Korean War is a big draw for military history buffs as well. This final volume of the trilogy stands entirely on its own, although captivated readers will surely want to go back and pick up the first two books.–Diane Colson, Palm Harbor Library, FL