Johnny Tremain is the story of a talented young silversmith apprentice whose hand is badly burned by a jealous rival. With his bright future snatched from his grasp, he becomes a messenger embroiled in the American colonists' struggle for independence from the British. Johnny meets many legendary historical figures, like John Hancock, Sam Adams, and Paul Revere (himself a silversmith) and participates in many seminal events, like the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere's midnight ride.
It's a fascinating premise that could have made for an excellent book. There was opportunity to craft a work of historical fiction that made the lives of the New England colonists come alive, or else a gripping adventure with incredible, larger-than-life personalities.
Instead, the book is a boring, simplistic mess.
There are three main elements of writing;
1. How well the author uses words to construct sentences, thoughts, and imagery.
2. How exciting the work is.
3. How intelligent the work is; its themes and ideas.
The book is a failure on all three points. In terms of the first, it's hard for me to fathom that Esther Forbes was a professional writer. Her sentences are stunted and banal, reporting the bare minimum of facts, with an absence of imagery or metaphor. Very rarely does she even touch upon a character's thoughts or feelings, just their actions. Now, this style works for some authors, but unfortunately, Forbes' words are rarely crisp and efficient. They blunder along, sloppily describing the barren world she imagined.
In terms of excitement, "Johnny Tremain" best resembles a plodding mule. There aren't any surprises in the book! It's predictable the whole way through. It's like Ms. Forbes had a checkpoint of historical figures and events she wanted to include, but introducing any kind of suspense or twist was more bother than she could muster.
The book also lacks any intelligence. Again, we almost never get to go into the mind and feelings of the characters, and when we do, we're only exposed to the most basic of emotions. There's no cleverness or significant brain activity by any of the characters in the novel. One might say this is defensible in a children's book, but I counter that even Winnie-Pooh or Brer Rabbit are far more intelligent, and they're ostensibly for much younger audiences.
If you want a dull, simplistic read which can be fully summarized in a paragraph, read "Johnny Tremain". Otherwise, avoid this lousy hack job.