My Brother Sam is Dead is a work of historical fiction written by brothers James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. It was published in 1974.
It has been praised for its historical accuracy and literary quality, and was named a Newbery Honor Book, a Jane Adams Honor Book, and a finalist for a National Book Award, all in 1975.
Complaints about My Brother Sam is Dead include some of the usual: profanity, excessive violence (isn't war always excessively violent?!) and alcohol consumption. (The Meekers own, and live in, a tavern).
The book was challenged in several states, sometimes successfully.
The story is told by Sam's younger brother, Tim Meeker, during the time of - and after - the Revolutionary War. Tim idolizes Sam, who is attending college as the story begins.
The family lives in a small village in Connecticut, and as yet has not been much impacted by the war. Mr. Meeker is a Tory, loyal to the English King, but tries to stay out of anything having to do with war the best he can.
Trouble within the family begins when, not having been home for nearly four months, Sam walks through the door of the family's tavern/home, and announces that he has left college and joined the rebel army.
Mr. Meeker demands that Sam take off the uniform and go back to college, or else not come home again. Sam tries to explain his viewpoint, and asks his father for the Brown Bess, the family's only gun. His father says no, and Sam later steals it.
No one can talk him out of what he is doing, not even his mother. He's determined to fight with the Patriots until the war ends.
Tim continues to look up to Sam, but stays confused during most of the book about who's right and who's wrong about the war.
He says when his father explains it, it sounds right, and when Sam explains it, that sounds right, too, and he can't bring himself to choose a side.
Tim and his father take a trip to a community on the Hudson River to sell cattle and purchase supplies for the winter. On the way home, Mr. Meeker is captured and never seen again. The family later learns he died on a prison ship. Tim escapes and manages to make it home through the deep snow and dark of night with the wagonload of supplies.
Tim is loyal to Sam until the end. When Sam is falsely accused of stealing his own family's cattle, he is found guilty and sentenced to be shot. In fact, Sam was trying to stop the real thieves, but they turned on him and swore he was the thief.
Cattle stealing had become a problem among the troops, and General Putnam, determined to put a stop to it, makes an example of Sam.
Tim does everything he can think of to try to save him, including trying to help him escape from the stockade. But all of his endeavors fail. When the day comes, Tim goes to Sam's execution.
Tim helps his mother with the home and business until the war is over. They then sell the tavern and move to Pennsylvania.
My Brother Sam is Dead gives us a good look at what war is really like, up close and personal. Mrs. Meeker often says that war turns men into beasts.
In the epilogue, Tim is now sixty-four years old, and leaves us with these thoughts: He thinks that the United States will have a great history. Free of British rule, it has prospered.
He says that maybe people will read the story and understand what the cost has been.
And he keeps thinking that there may have been another way, other than war, to accomplish the same thing.