81 pages • 2 hours readHoward Fast
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April Morning is a historical fiction work by Howard Fast, a prolific author whose writings spanned the bulk of the 20th century. Published in 1961, midway through Fast’s career, the novel is one of many he wrote on the Revolutionary War and the birth of America. Originally intended for a general audience, it came to be regarded as a young adult novel as many middle and high school English programs included it in their curriculum, due to its historical accuracy and coming-of-age theme. April Morning was adapted into a made-for-TV movie starring Tommy Lee Jones in 1988. Other Howard Fast works adapted into movies include Freedom Road, The Crossing, and Spartacus.
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April Morning begins with 15-year-old protagonist Adam Cooper doing chores in Lexington, Massachusetts, on his parents’ farm. He argues and clashes with his entire family, including his brother Levi, his mother Sarah, Granny, and above all, his father Moses. Adam feels his father is too hard on him and does not love him.
That evening Adam goes on a walk with Ruth Simmons, his second cousin. They have been romantically inclined toward one another for several years now. Ruth’s father is Joseph Simmons, the local blacksmith. They talk of their lives, and Adam expresses an interest in leaving town and joining a merchant marine ship. Adam kisses Ruth, and they go to their separate homes.
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That night a rider comes into Lexington with a warning about British soldiers on the march to confiscate military supplies in Concord. Adam and Moses join the other townsfolk in the common area to discuss options. Moses is part of the local committeemen organization, a quasi-military group that the colonials have formed to oppose the British. They decide to muster on the common as a show of force, but they will not attack the British, as there are only 70 of them and reportedly over 1,000 British soldiers.
The men sign a muster book, with Moses taking the signatures. Adam signs as well, which Moses permits after some hesitation. When they leave to gather with the other men, Moses puts his arm around Adam’s shoulders and speaks kindly to him.
When the soldiers finally arrive, the Committeemen are standing in rank, but they do not have their guns cocked or at the ready. The local reverend acts as the spokesperson, and the expectation is that there will be a parley. A shot is heard, but its source is uncertain. The British attack, killing several local men, including Moses.
Adam runs and hides. His brother Levi finds him and reports that Granny and their mother Sarah have taken Moses’s body and are unharmed. Adam is then chased by British soldiers when he flees his hiding place. He is found by Solomon Chandler, a military leader for the militia, who comforts and feeds Adam before they head to a mustering point for other Committeemen. The reverend and Joseph Simmons are already there. Simmons tells Adam that he will be like a father to Adam if Adam wishes.
The militia now march to ambush the British; Chandler urges them on with a speech extolling the virtue of vengeance. They line up along the road and assail the British as they go by, never staying still long enough for the enemy troops to charge them in force. Adam fires his weapon, too, injuring some soldiers but not killing anyone.
The battle continues. Adam expresses a desire to return home at one point, but Joseph Simmons discourages him, saying that a war has now begun, and they must finish what they have started. At the next ambush Adam realizes he is too far away from the enemy for his gun to have any effect, and he falls asleep during the engagement. He is found by the reverend and Joseph Simmons.
They return to Lexington. Adam helps take his father’s coffin to the church to lie in rest with the other coffins, then goes home and eats a meal prepared by the women gathered to provide comfort to Sarah and her family. After the meal Ruth and Adam head toward the church together. They meet the reverend on the way, who cautions Adam about going to war when his mother will need him at home. Ruth and Adam spend a little time in the candlelit church with the coffins; after, Adam walks Ruth home. He then goes to bed himself, exhausted, and says a prayer of gratitude that the day is finally over.
By Howard Fast