The Revenge of Joe Wild, Andrew Komarnyckyj

The cover looks like an early American 'Wanted' poster tacked to a wall. There is a boy on a horse and the title is in black.

At the end of the book, the blurb states, “A classic slice of Americana…” I think that is incredibly apt for The Revenge of Joe Wild. This is a book that readers will call a classic indeed.

“Looking back on things I wonder if Cath knew any of the secrets that came to light when it was too late to stop things going the way they went.”

Told from the teenage perspective of Joe Wild, he looks back on his life to date. In a poor country town in Southern Illinois, Joe’s family is poorer than most. With an alcoholic for a father, Joe’s at the end of a switch more times than he can count. When he escapes town, he heads to Washington to join the Union army to fight in the Civil war. It’s a long walk, but if anyone can do it, Joe can.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. Well, when Pa was someplace else it didn’t make my heart any fonder of him. It did make me rest easier, but I dreaded him coming back.”

Poor Joe, his life has been a non-stop trial at such a young age. But he has insight that is unparalleled. I highlighted so many things he’s said or reflected on that I feel will stay with me for a long time. The town is incredibly descriptive, and I can picture being in the shed Joe sleeps in. When he joined the Union army, I felt like I was sitting alongside the other soldiers, hearing the stories they told.

“… but I kept my views to myself. It was always the best way when speaking with grownups.”

I’ve been a fan of Komarnyckyj for a long while, so I knew when the request to read this came in that I would enjoy the novel. But I didn’t know I would enjoy it so much. It’s poignant, often humorous, and thoughtful. We look at poverty and racism, and being the Civil War, slavery. But, so many more issues are addressed as well. It’s a walk through American history that is an absolute treat to read. I’ve heard the novel is already being adopted by school systems and in numerous libraries.

I know I’ve peppered quite a few quotes in this review, (it’s been tough narrowing them down,) but I want to leave you with a final one.

“Never seen so many muskets in one place. Death lined up neatly on shelves.”

Book Links

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About the Book

The Revenge of Joe Wild is a young adult novel about a semi-literate 12-year-old boy growing up in mid-19th century Southern Illinois, an outsider who can’t fit in with the norms of society. When Joe is accused of murdering his friend Ervan Foster, he flees the authorities and goes on the run, vowing to one day return as an adult, find out who the real killer is, clear his name, and avenge Ervan’s death. While on the run, Joe has many funny, dangerous, and eye-opening adventures which include joining the Union army and fighting in the American Civil War. When the war ends, Joe returns to his hometown, an armed and battle-tested sixteen-year-old. He confronts his accusers, but when Joe finds out the truth behind Ervan’s murder, he makes peace with the man who falsely accused him, as well as with himself. In the great tradition of such 19th-century American authors Mark Twain, James Fennimore Cooper, and Stephen Crane, The Revenge of Joe Wild is a humorous, tense, action-filled novel set against the dramatic backdrop of the Civil War, with themes involving racism, sexuality, and misinformation that are just as relevant in the 21st century as they were during the time of Joe Wild.


Read this review on Amazon, Goodreads, and Bookbub.

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