Nate Donovan: Revolutionary Spy
A book review for parents
This historical adventure by Peter Marshall, David Manuel and Sheldon Maxwell is second in the "Crimson Cross" series and is published by the B&H Publishing Group.
Nate Donovan: Revolutionary Spy is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
During the Revolutionary War, talk of war and rebellion in Philadelphia creates increasing tension for the Donovans, a Quaker family. When the oldest son, Charles, joins the Continental Army, Nate Donovan stumbles upon his mother's diary, which indicates that she, too, is sympathetic to the patriot cause. The British Army occupies the Donovan home and uses it as a meeting place, assuming that this carpenter's family will not participate in political unrest because they are Quakers. Captain Andre insists that the 3-year-old Donovan twins cannot stay at the home because of the disruption they might cause for his meetings. As Lydia Donovan, the mother, prepares the boys to go live with an aunt, she makes Nate wear Charles' coat beneath his own in order to smuggle the coat to Charles while he is at war. When Nate arrives at the aunt's tavern, he discovers that her tavern is a meeting place for patriot spy missions. The patriots there invite Nate — his bravery proven by smuggling the coat — to join their efforts. Upon returning home, he discovers Lydia is also an informant for the patriots.
A number of daring and dangerous missions unfold with the help of an Indian named Running Fox. On one mission, Nate must speak to General Washington, who then uses Nate for other spy missions. Eventually, the enemy captures Nate and Running Fox, throws them in prison and makes plans to hang them. Nate's father, William, appears at the prison the next day to pick up the body of a dead prisoner. Another prisoner suggests smuggling Nate out instead of the dead prisoner since no one at the prison keeps a body count. William frees Nate, who then begins working with the Continental Army to come up with a plan to free the others. At the farewell party for British General Howe, the patriots stage a grand commotion of explosions on the wharf to distract the soldiers while they empty the prison. The Donovan family must flee the city now that their identity as patriot supporters is known. At a ceremony for the Continental Army, Lydia, Running Fox and Nate receive awards from General Washington for their bravery. The British evacuate Philadelphia, and life resumes for the Donovan family.
The Donovan family is a God-fearing Quaker family. At first Nate is doubtful of God's role in his life. However, he begins to see God's intervention when he loses his way and rescued from a river. A fellow prisoner asks Nate if he believes in God, but Nate avoids the question by replying that his parents do. The prisoner tells the Daniel story to give hope for escape and reminds Nate that God is their only hope. But Nate is still doubtful. By the end, Nate believes God has been with him.
The Presbyterian pastor across the street from the Donovans' home is an outspoken patriot who shows integrity and an ability to stand up for his beliefs. Lydia Donovan is a God-fearing woman who compares General Washington to Moses. She prays for her family and trusts God for their safety.
The oldest brother, Charles, defies his father's Quaker beliefs and joins the war effort. His father sees this son as lost and foolish until the end of the book. Rachel, who is Nate's teenage sister, is a self-centered young lady who feels she should be allowed to flirt and speak with whomever she chooses. She is outspoken and disobeys and disagrees with her parents. Her mother warns her about Captain Andre, and the mother is proven right about her judgment of the British captain. Nate is sensitive to his father's Quaker beliefs, so he doesn't mention his spy efforts.
Colonel Cadwalader, who gives Nate his second spying mission, tells Nate that he must get the approval of both his parents before the patriots will continue to consider him for these missions. Nate complies and tells his father what he is doing. His father objects, but Nate sneaks out at night to complete the mission. Nate believes the cause of the patriots and the safety of his brother outweigh his obedience to his father. Lydia keeps her patriot ties a secret from her husband until it becomes known that she is supporting the cause in order to save her oldest son.
Other Belief Systems
Running Fox talks with Nate about the Great Spirit; it becomes clear he is referring to the Christian God. Running Fox prays for the Great Spirit to revive Nate when Nate almost drowns. As the two become closer, Running Fox convinces Nate of God's protection and guidance.
Violence is present although not graphic. Two men are hung early in the book, and Nate throws up after witnessing this spectacle. A barn burned down at night causes screams from the American soldiers inside. Descriptions include being hit by gunshot, but the book does not go into detail other than binding a wound. One drama tells of primitive torpedoes blowing up the British farewell party and throwing people onto the decks and into the water. Also mentioned are the cut and torn feet of the soldiers who are starving at Valley Forge.
Rachel flirts on a balcony at church and later with the British Captain Andre. Andre is overtly interested in Rachel, interrupting his secret meetings to flatter her when she is present. She attends the British farewell party as Andre's escort. A courier spy named Sally is interested in both Charles and Nate. She kisses Nate while Charles looks on. The brothers begin to argue over the girl only to decide she has played one against the other.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How do the Quakers feel about war?
If you were faced with Charles' decision to go to war or uphold Quaker family beliefs, what would you choose?
How do you think Charles could justify his decision?
- What does Nate do when faced with the same decision?
How does he sneak behind his parents' back to join the spy network?
Do you think he was right or wrong to do this?
Why do you think the teenagers in this story disobey their parents' wishes?
- What laws do people break to stand up for their beliefs?
In what situations is God honored and in what situations is God dishonored when someone obeys and disobeys authority in this book?
- What happens to Rachel when she does not take her mother's advice about Captain Andre?
How does the mother know what he is like?
- Why do you think Mr. Donovan changes his mind about the patriot pastor?
- Name situations in the lives of these characters where you saw God at work.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.