Hearts of Iron

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry

Age group: 12-17

Jacket illustration: Kamil Vojnar.

Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN 10: 1-4169-0850-1
ISBN 13: 978-1416908500

To buy this book

  • Description
  • Book Club Ideas
  • Discussions


Jesse and Lucy have been best friends forever. But in the summer of 1820, life begins to change.

Jesse is no longer the easy-going boy Lucy has always known. His desire to join the Navy is growing with each passing day, in spite of his father’s refusal to let him leave the mountain or the iron forging business that their family has been a part of for generations.

And Lucy faces challenges of her own. Her father is trying to find her a suitor – one from far beyond her beloved mountain!

How can Lucy and Jesse reconcile their own dreams with the expectations their parents hold for them when they are at such odds?

A coming of age novel, HEARTS OF IRON, is about love and friendship and following one’s destiny.

Winter 2006/2007 Book Sense Children’s Pick.
2007 IRA Teacher’s Choice

“The small hamlet of Mount Riga, Connecticut, relies upon its iron forge for existence. It is 1820 and the seasonal forge work that occupies most of the men of Mount Riga is about to commence. For Lucy Pettee this is a time of bitter sweetness. Her lifelong friend and companion, Jesse Rossetter, has begun working at the forge. Jesse hates this labor and dreams of running off to join the navy. Lucy’s father, the local shopkeeper, wants a better life for his daughter than one in the mountains. He sends away for a young acquaintance to come and court his daughter with an eye toward her relocating to Boston. But Lucy thinks she loves Jesse and feels guilt whenever her attention is drawn to the stranger from Boston. Faced with the confusion of young love and divided loyalties, Lucy must make drastic choices. These choices, and those of people she cares about, change her life in ways she could hardly imagine. Set against the backdrop of the beautiful New England mountain country, this title tells a believable story of adolescent love in a long gone day and age. This historical novel combines believable characters, a well-paced story, and an eye for the customs of a distant time. In telling the story of Lucy Pettee and her neighbors, Kathleen Benner Duble has shown both an eye for historical authenticity as well as a compassionate writer’s heart.”

You can actually visit an Iron Museum in Saugus, MA by clicking here.

Book Club ideas

Ideas for book clubs


VENUE: If you live near Boston, check out the Saugus Iron Works and see how iron was produced. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have an iron works near you, visit a site such as Sturbridge Village, which portrays life in the 1800’s. Take a trip to a farm and do some berry picking or apple picking to experience the farm work Lucy might have done. Don’t have a farm or historical site nearby? Create your own! Dress up in period costumes, skirts, aprons, and hats. Cook your meal over a fire and see just how difficult that can be!

FOOD: Start with a spitted and roasted beef. Be sure to make gravy and Yorkshire Pudding to accompany your beef. (I’ve included my Grandmother’s recipe for you) Green beans would make a nice addition and finish it off with a pumpkin pudding. (That old recipe is below, too.)

Yorkshire Pudding:

1 cup flour, 1 egg, 1 cup milk, 1 tsp. baking powder, 2tsp. shortening – Heat oven to 500 degrees. Place shortening in a pie pan. Melt until shortening is very, very hot. Mix other ingredients together. Pour into hot pie pan and bake 20-30 minutes until brown and crisp.

Pompkin Pudding:

One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.

ONLINE RESOURCEhttp://www.memorialhall.mass.edu/turns/theme.jsp?x=2&y=1

SPECIAL GUESTS: Because iron making is no longer being done the way it was in HEARTS OF IRON nor is the navy the same, finding a special guest is a bit of a challenge. Do you have a computer? I’d be happy to be your special guest for a book club meeting. Email me and we can figure out a way to skype during your get together!


Social Studies

  1. Do you believe Lucy and Samuel made a wise choice in trying to do what they deemed was right for the person they loved?
  2. How might you work out a situation in which your desires do not coincide with those of your parents?
  3. As Jesse is leaving, Lucy realizes that “Sometimes love isn’t about what is right for you.” Do you believe this to be true? And to what extent?


  1. Iron-making is no longer an important trade in America. What other businesses can you think of from this period or others that are no longer in vogue? What industries have taken their place?
  2. Can you think of any jobs people do today that are as dangerous as the jobs Jesse and Joseph did at the forge? How are people doing those jobs better safeguarded today? How are they not?
  3. Families at this time tended to be large. Economically, why do you think that is?
  4. Describe how your schooling is different from that of Lucy’s.
  5. In what other aspects, was Lucy’s life different from your own?

The Arts

  1. Why was portrait painting in fashion back in 1820? Why were most young ladies having one done?
  2. Why do you think the playing of a piano was considered a genteel occupation, one only women of better education accomplished?
  3. Do you believe that the arts are still a privilege of the upper class today or have things changed? Why and how?


  1. How does the process of combining lime, charcoal and ore produce iron?
  2. Why are strong fires necessary to create liquid metal?
  3. How does the process of beating on the iron when it is cooled help form strong iron products?

Language Arts

  1. How does the dialogue of each of the characters in the book reveal their backgrounds?
  2. What scenes in the text help describe the village in which Jesse and Lucy live and the work that goes on about them?
  3. The ending to Hearts of Iron is both hopeful and sad. How would you have changed the ending? Try writing a different one of your own.