Kirkus Star


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This compelling tale of a passenger on the Underground Railroad is entirely populated with historical figures; not since Gary Paulsen's Nightjohn (1993) has the physical and emotional impact of slavery been made so palpable. Child of a free father and a slave mother, Ann Maria Weems grows up in the warmth of a loving family that is suddenly torn apart when her brothers are sold South and money raised by abolitionists arrives, but only enough to purchase freedom for her mother and sister. Knowing that her harsh master will never willingly give her freedom, Ann Marie resolves to steal it when the opportunity--a staged kidnapping, at the hands of an abolitionist, Jacob Bigelow--arises. Only occasionally manipulating actual events, Carbone (Starting School With an Enemy, p. 809, etc.) sends Ann Marie from Maryland to Washington, where she hides for months in a garret, then on to relatives in Canada, where she drops permanently from sight. A richly detailed society emerges, in which the powerless hold their own through quick wit and strength of character, and the powerful, scarred by the fact of slavery, know little real peace. Varying in tone from devastating simplicity (""Master Charles loaded . . . the last of the chickens, five barrels of tobacco, two sacks of wheat, and his son, and took them all to Baltimore to be sold"") to subtle irony underlying scenes in which abolitionists gather to fuss over Ann Marie as if she were some rare animal, this story pays tribute to the power of the very idea of freedom.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0786273143
Page count: 266pp
Publisher: Knopf