Abolitionists square off against slave catchers in this well-crafted debut, complicating the schemes of a stranded young sailor.
Kidnapped off the streets of New Bedford by his harsh half-brother, held until his whaler had departed and then forced to work in a local cotton mill, Lucky Valera, a 14-year-old orphan of Cape Verdean descent, finds his efforts to escape stymied at every turn. His attachments to his coworker and new friend Daniel, a fugitive slave, and Emmeline, activist daughter of a Quaker abolitionist, involve him in plans to protect the large number of fugitives in town from approaching slave catchers. Along with a few references to “darkies” and “dark devils” that evoke the era’s negative racial attitudes, Russell folds in enough historical detail to establish a sense of setting. Without burdening the tale with info dumps, she lays out a basic view of the conflict between the recently passed Fugitive Slave Act and the moral stance of those who opposed it. The author also provides ample tests of character for Lucky and Daniel alike as she speeds her tale to a climactic escape and happy resolution after Lucky’s half-sib treacherously tries to collect a reward for both lads and is himself briefly seized.
Solid work, featuring a strong-minded protagonist bent on doing the best he can with what he’s been given. (afterword, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 11-13)