Chosen as one of New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age 1998
Nominated for the 1998 Bay Area Book Reviewers' Association Award for Best Children's Book of the Year
Chosen to appear in The Best Children's Books of the Year by the Children's Book Committee at the Bank Street College of Education

From Publishers Weekly

In the late 1850s, a teenage boy runs away from his Quaker home to join up with John Brown and is recruited for the raid on Harpers Ferry.
Ages 10-14.

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-8. When 14-year-old Theodore first encounters John Brown, the charismatic abolitionist's rhetoric appeals to him. While his Quaker mother is a pacifist and his father is not concerned with the unrest in other states, Theodore is ripe for following a man of action. He steals away to join Brown's volunteer militia. When he and the other fighters learn that they are to seize the weapons at Harper's Ferry and flee to the mountains to establish a republic to which runaway slaves will flock, they are stunned. Theodore is torn about whether to continue on with his mentor, but in the end decides to stay and fight. Brown tells him that he will be fighting with lightning: relaying telegraph messages to Brown and sending false messages to their enemies during the raid. When the attack fails, Theodore is arrested; in a clever ending, he is rescued by his father and a friend. This historically accurate, richly detailed novel perfectly captures Theodore's angst as he stands on the verge of manhood, yearning to act, but lacking experience in decision-making. An excellent first effort that is a welcome change from the recent boy-turns-Civil War drummer/musician stories such as G. Clifton Wisler's The Drummer Boy of Vicksburg (1997) and Mr. Lincoln's Drummer (1995, both Lodestar), and Joan Nixon's A Dangerous Promise (Delacorte, 1994).

From Booklist

Gr. 6-9. On a cold night in Concord in 1857, 14-year-old Theodore goes with his parents to hear abolitionist John Brown speak about "bloody Kansas." The boy's father calls Brown an assassin, but his mother, a Quaker, is more sympathetic to the cause. She invites Brown to temporarily hide out in their home, where Theodore comes to know and respect the man. Later, Theodore runs away to join Brown's company and takes part in events at Harper's Ferry. Rescued from prison by his father, he lives to tell his tale. Rees' novel not only introduces the charismatic figure of John Brown, it also looks at the morality of killing for one's beliefs and shows the variance of public sentiment about the advisability of war in the mid-1850s. Readers who have little knowledge of the period may find themselves confused at times, but Theodore makes a sympathetic narrator as he tries to decide what he believes and how far he will go in acting upon those beliefs.

From Kirkus Reviews

Theodore Worth first encounters John Brown, the charismatic leader who will change his life, when his family reluctantly agrees to hide the man in their Boston home overnight. Driven by strong beliefs and the unjust death of a black acquaintance at the hands of slave catchers, Theodore later runs away from home to help Brown in his ill-fated attack on Harper's Ferry. Theodore's role is that of survivor, the one who tells the tale. And like other chroniclers of tragedy--Ishmael or Tom of Warwick- -he is confronted by and makes use of passion and poetry to discharge his duty. Rees lights his story with flashes of lyricism that make plain the moral ambiguities of Brown's case: Did he intend all along to become the martyr whose death would light the fuse of the Civil War? Were his actions justified by the evil he fought? In much of historical fiction, the answers have to be fabricated; here, Rees trusts readers to ponder the excitement of the questions themselves. (Fiction. 10-14)

From Children's Literature

Fourteen-year-old Theodore Worth tells this fictional account of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Theodore is first impressed by the abolitionist when he hears him speak in Boston. When Brown is housed by Theodore's parents to avoid being caught by a federal marshal, Theodore gets to know him personally. Later, while Theodore is in Cincinnati for his grandfather's funeral, he witnesses the unthinkable. His grandfather's faithful servant, Jacob, is abducted by slave catchers. Theodore watches horrified as a shackled Jacob throws himself to his death in the river. Determined to take action against slavery, Theodore runs away from home and joins John Brown's troops. Historical fiction breathes emotion into facts and humanizes events. In this case, the reader gains a greater understanding of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. The author's note at the end delineates between fact and fiction. While the story occasionally feels contrived, overall it holds the reader's attention and is a good starting point for discussions on slavery, the Missouri Compromise, war vs. pacifism, and the errors inherent in the raid.


Two fictional accounts of the life of abolitionist John Brown focus on young persons caught up in events leading to the Civil War, whose lives are forever changed by their involvement with Brown. Lightning Time tells the story of fourteen-year-old Theodore Worth, who is influenced by Brown when his Quaker family hides him from federal marshals. After Theodore witnesses a tragic incident involving a free black man who chooses death over a return to slavery, he is convinced of the rightness of Brown's cause. Theodore runs away and joins Brown in his fight for the abolition of slavery, a decision that seals his fate, involving him in the tragic events at Harper's Ferry. The title refers to the telegraph, which Theodore operates, a skill that keeps him out of the line of fire at Harper's Ferry but ultimately involves him in the Civil War that follows. Mine Eyes Have Seen, the latest historical novel by Rinaldi, tells the story of Annie Brown, teenage daughter of John Brown. Annie is called to help her father while he prepares his small rag-tag army for a raid on the U.S. Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, a plan that involves supplying arms to slaves and starting an uprising. The insanity of the plan is underscored by the refusal of several well-known free blacks to be involved-including the great orator Frederick Douglass. Rinaldi's story is filled with details about John Brown's life. He was a man obsessed with slavery but was a failure at everything else. He had a difficult relationship with his children, yet they were eager to please this powerful man-even to die in the cause. Annie's role in Rinaldi's story is as a witness and survivor-who became the one to tell what really happened. Rinaldi's story is the more extensively researched of the two and includes a bibliography. It bogs down in the middle and is more character driven than Lightning Time, which is a faster read and has plenty happening. Neither of these books will fly off your shelves, but they might prove useful for assignments. Both include lists of participants in these pre-Civil War events and the participants' fates. Rees includes a historical note, and Rinaldi lists all of John Brown's children and their fates. I recommend these for larger collections, with a slight favor to Rees's readable story. Note: This review was written and published to address two titles: Lightning Time and Mine Eyes Have Seen. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P M J S (Readable without serious defects, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).