Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 250
A coming-of-age story, The Tamarack Tree describes the journey from fourteen-year-old girlhood to young adulthood through the trauma, tragedy, and triumph of the American Civil War. The author uses historical fiction to introduce the reader to this war, slavery, and the antebellum South. The chapters are written as if they were taken from the diary of Rosemary Leigh, who lived in Vicksburg from 1859 to 1863.
Rosemary is an orphaned English girl who comes to live with her brother in Vicksburg. She becomes a close friend with Mary Byrd—the daughter of a plantation owner. She also befriends Ben, who later enlists in the Confederate Army to fight the "Yankees." Rosemary falls in love with Jeff—a young man who decides to fight for the Union army. While in Vicksburg, Rosemary also learns about slavery, "free Negroes," and the Underground Railroad.
As the war unfolds, Rosemary and her friends cannot escape its impact on their lives. No longer can Rosemary and Mary Byrd live in the world of parties, shopping, and servants tending to their every need. The war tests their ability to survive on a daily basis—what they eat, how they dress, where they live, and what they think is moral and right. Other characters in the book also face moral decisions because of the war. For Jeff, it is the decision to support the Union cause at risk of losing his love, Rosemary. For Ben, the war points him toward a course of action that will shorten his life.