The Portsmouth Alarm (December 1774)

Terri DeMitchell
Salt Marsh Books (2022)
ISBN 9781737437802
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (8/2022)

“The Portsmouth Alarm (December 1774)” by Terri DeMitchell takes a twist to one of the crucial historical moments leading up to the Revolutionary War. In colonial Portsmouth, New Hampshire, two teenage boys are about to experience their first tastes of what the Revolution promises to bring. Andrew Beckett is a 14-year-old who wishes to go to Harvard to study to be a doctor. He is a peaceful lad, with a blossoming crush on one of his friend’s sisters and a strong moral character. He is cognizant of the changes in the attitudes and fears of his fellow townspeople, and torn between doing what is right and what is easy. Jack Cochran is Andrew’s friend, the 13-year-old eldest son of Captain Cochran of His Majesty’s Castle William and Mary. A staunch supporter of the controversial Governor Wentworth and loyal to the King, Jack finds himself defending his home against Andrew, a friend-turned-rebel, and everything he thought he knew starts to unravel. Both boys must ask themselves what they are willing to do to protect themselves, their families, and their fellow neighbors and friends. Can they bridge their differences amid the chaos, or will Paul Revere’s late-night message which prompted a raid at His Majesty’s Castle William and Mary the catalyst that sets all the cannons firing? 

“The Portsmouth Alarm (December 1774)” is a captivating novel set in pre-revolutionary New England. Geared toward middle grade and young teenage readers, the novel does a fantastic job of bringing such a crucial period of American history to life in a way that is identifiable to their young minds. While Andrew and Jack are fictional characters, it is easy to imagine the turmoil—both inside their minds and in the world around them—that is about to cut short their childhoods and throw them headlong into a long, dangerous and bloody conflict. One moment they are sitting at their desks learning their Latin lessons, and the next their teacher is called away on urgent business which, unbeknownst to them, stirs the cauldron enough that when Paul Revere comes riding in with an urgent message, tempers are already boiling over. 

When we think about the Revolutionary War, even as we learn in grade school and later in high school and college, we think about Lexington and Concord, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Loyalists, The Boston Tea Party, etc. What “The Portsmouth Alarm (December 1774)” does, however, is bring a new idea into the minds of readers, particularly those who are of similar age to Andrew and Jack: What was it really like for all the children and young adults? How many innocent lives were ripped away, both figuratively and literally, when the British came to town?

In our current world, we see horrors plaguing our young generations every day, and too often, it seems like children are caught in the crossfire of war, politics, and suffering. “The Portsmouth Alarm (December 1774)” reminds us of the unfortunate truth: in times of struggle and conflict it is the young that often bear some of the heaviest weights of the world as they watch how it drastically alters their daily lives and the lives of their parents, siblings, friends, etc. 

DeMitchell’s novel approaches the subject of the Revolution at a level that is understandable, accessible and, possibly most importantly, interesting to young readers. Personally, I can say that I would have much preferred reading a book like this than the run-of-the-mill “Red Badge of Courage” and “My Brother Sam is Dead”. Fraught with teenage angst appropriate for both the age of the characters and historical period, “The Portsmouth Alarm (December 1774)” breathes a fresh of fresh air into historical fiction for young readers.

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