Tuesday, December 3, 2013


By Elizabeth Stewart
Published by Annick Press
Copyright © 2012

Review by Anthony Kendrick

We all like to think that we are good people, that given the choice of standing up for someone very different from us who is in desperate need or joining in with our peers who are injuring them, that we would do the right thing. But throughout history there were a litany of people who just stood by and let bad things happen. “The Lynching of Louie Sam” is likely the story of just such an event.

It’s 1884 in the Washington territory and the settlers in more remote parts of the territory stick close together for their safety and livelihood. While life is relatively peaceful, there is still tension with the Native peoples. George Gillies and his family live in what is now Whatcom County, Washington; just miles away from the international border with Canada. One Sunday on their way to church, George and his three siblings come across the burning house of their neighbor James Bell and they find that he has been murdered. All fingers point to a native boy, Louie Sam, who had been seen in the area that day. A lynch mob is formed to get Louie Sam; George and his friend Pete are eager to follow the mob into Canada to impress their fathers and their friends. Soon however, George and his father begin to have doubts about Louie Sam’s guilt. Will they keep quiet to protect their own, or will they do what is right?

“The Lynching of Louie Sam” is a historical novel that is based on an actual event. While the characters in the book were real people, any of their thoughts and actions, beyond the event in question, are merely great story telling. Elizabeth Stewart has written a gripping story about racism, injustice, and conscience. It even loosely touches on the issue of bullying. I think that Stewart explores the questions involved in these issues well: Is it more important to do what is right and see justice served, or to protect your own no matter what? And do you do what’s right to ease your conscience, or do you do what’s right because it’s right?

Stewart fleshes out a very complex cast of characters, especially in George Gillies. George is fifteen; he is trying to prove to his father and his friends that he is a man. This task is difficult because his best friend, Pete, constantly reminds him that he is a year older and treats him as such. In addition he has a very impetuous younger brother who seems to struggle less with his sense of right and wrong. Part of George’s problem is that he isn’t brash like many of the men and boys he knows, but he is thoughtful. In his one instance of definitive action and brashness the situation goes awry. So what does it mean to be a man?

There is just so much to enjoy about this book. The story is sad but riveting, the characters are complex, it touches home here in the Pacific Northwest, and the story’s moral is universal when considered alongside so many tragic events from history and modern times. I highly recommend this book for adults and youth in 7th grade and up.

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