The Totally Made-up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish, by Claudia Mills, opens with the line, "Only in our house, thought Amanda MacLeish, could a Friday night family Monopoly game turn into the Civil War." The scene is painful, and any child who has ever suffered through watching his or her family disintegrate in front of them will identify with Amanda and her older sister. Her parents' separation isn't the only thing which goes wrong in Amanda's life. Her sister becomes more sulky than ever, her best friend seems to pull back from her, and she fails to stand up for another friend who suffers the insults of a racist. The only thing which seems to be going right is the Civil War diary assignment from her fifth-grade teacher. Amanda finds ways to weave the contemplation of her personal life into the diary entries for her fictional counterpart, a Maryland girl whose two brothers have chosen opposite sides in the Civil War. Writing the entries helps her to work through the emotions stirred up by her parents' separation and the other events in her life.
Ms. Mills has definitely made Amanda's mother the heavy in the piece, using her less-than-sunny nature as a reason for Mr. MacLeish's lack of effort to put his family back together and his quick turn to another woman. Obviously the speed with which his affections are maneuvered is evidence of his own weakness, but most kids, especially daddy's girls, won't necessarily catch that. Amanda is ten years old, and I wouldn't recommend this book to any child less than that age. And as a parent, if I knew my child was reading or had read the book, I would definitely take the opportunity to discuss the frailties of both adult MacLeishes.