“A Girl Called Samson” is a historical fiction novel released on April 1, 2023, based on the life story of Deborah Sampson, one of the first women soldiers in America. She put on a disguise and enlisted in the Revolutionary War as a man. Her story is not discussed much, but some records of her exist. Amy Harmon, an author and former history teacher, discovered Sampson’s story and was inspired. Although parts of Sampson’s history are missing and cannot be recovered, Harmon researched and compiled the facts, filled in some blanks and created a fictional retelling to bring Sampson back to life.
It is worth noting that “A Girl Called Samson” is not a nonfiction story. It is based on facts and rewritten history. In the story, Sampson is portrayed as “Samsom”, an alternate spelling of her name.The reason for this spelling being used in the novel has not been discussed but I think it symbolizes a rebirth of Deborah. It helps to differentiate the fictional story from the real one allowing the author to reimagine her story. Some people may not be fans of the changes made to Sampson’s story. The romance is my favorite part of the novel, but none of it actually happened. For instance, in the novel she marries a different man than she did in her real life. The romance is a very slow burn but is incredibly worth it, and I think it adds a lot to the novel without taking away from Samson’s character. Harmon paints Samson as incredibly intelligent, blunt, unique and courageous. She does not let the romance take over the power Samson has. Her story truly shines through but the added romance is definitely welcome.
Harmon chose to have Samson long for more. She wanted to be a woman, but she felt restrained by the restrictions of her time. One of my favorite parts is that although Samson is portraying a man to fight in the war, she does not lose touch with her womanhood, in fact, she embraces it.
She speaks of wanting to be a woman but feeling constricted by society: “I do not hate being a woman. I simply hate that a woman can’t go to Yale or be a statesman or help draft a constitution. I hate that I can’t travel to Paris without a husband or even walk down the street alone. I hate the limitations that nature has placed on me, the limitations that life has placed on me. But I do not hate being a woman, and I would not hate being your woman.”
Although some parts of the novel are not factual, its basis is, and it is obvious thorough research went into it. I do not know much about the Revolutionary War but I felt like I was learning a lot about it—the names and order of the battles, and where and when events took place. I was getting to know about (and falling in love with) real people. Samson describes where she is and what is going on along the way and it feels like a story rather than factual historical context. The information just stuck and was delivered in an easily consumable way.
There is an author’s note at the end of the novel that describes which parts of the story were based solely on fact and which were not. I was pleased that most of it was true to the actual Deborah Sampson with really the only completely fictional parts being the romance. Part of the strong character and reader connection is probably due to the letters and journal entries that Sampson writes often in the novel. The generals, doctors, friends and family were all real people. This made me feel so much more connected to them. I was so sad to be finished with this book as I felt like I was really there with Samson along her journey.
I enjoyed this novel even more than I thought I would. I would even recommend this book to non-history fans. I think the romance and gorgeous writing is enough to keep readers engaged. I also got a feeling of empowerment reading about such a strong, courageous and powerful woman. The way Samson says things and Harmon’s whole writing style are so gorgeous. I found myself highlighting wonderfully structured and deeply thoughtful sentences every few pages. For instance, there were amazingly crafted lines such as “Great miracles were wrought on their journey, but miracles do not make life easy. Most often, miracles just make the next step possible,” or “It is not for the man who has everything and wants more that we fight, but for the man who has nothing.” These are just a few examples of quotes that will stick with me for a long time. I see myself thinking about the real and fictional Deborah Sam(p)son over and over again and I am so happy I picked up this novel.