WOLF BY THE EARS by Ann Rinaldi


Age Range: 12 & up
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 Harriet and her brothers, children of Jefferson's slave Sally Hemings, have good reason to believe that their beloved master is also their father. At 19, Harriet begins a journal describing the events leading to her difficult decision to claim her promised freedom at 21. Leaving Monticello and her family seems unthinkable, but after Jefferson's grandson-in-law assaults her she realizes what the future holds if she stays. The Jeffersons arrange for her to pass as white, as her older brother has done. Rinaldi bases her story on Fawn Brodie's highly speculative theories (largely discredited by recent historians) concerning Jefferson's possible children. She provides a bibliography and a historical note explaining how she has expanded Brodie's account in order to explore her own theme of alienation but, lamentably, fails to make clear that the Hemings' parentage is very much in doubt, or to distinguish between real and invented characters. The novel itself rambles and is repetitive; its style echoes the period, but not consistently--at times the author's voice, with whiffs of modern revisionism or political correctness, seems to supercede Harriet's. Rinaldi does draw Jefferson's complex ambivalence toward his own slaves credibly and with sympathy; but Harriet's privileged situation and her agonized decision to abandon both her home and her minimally evoked blackness remain unconvincing. A valiant, earnest try, but not a successful one. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-590-43413-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1991


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