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by Harriette Gillem Robinet

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-689-84561-8
Publisher: Atheneum

“We were being sold on a green commons in front of a redbrick courthouse of American justice. That fact brought tears to my eyes.” It’s September 1860, and it’s the third time at auction for 13-year-old Jacob Israel Christmas. Bought by The Honorable Mister Clarence Higginboom, Jacob and other slaves are soon heading to California. Jacob begins to suspect a plot by his new owner, a plot to steal gold coming out and stop the Pony Express from delivering election news to California. The news would, most likely, save California for the Union, when there’s a danger it might secede with the South. The gold of California is crucial to either side’s war effort, and all are sure war will come if Lincoln is elected. As the implausible set of events comes together, Jacob ends up in the right place at the right time to dash whatever treasonous plans Honorable Mister may have. The enslaved hero and his simple sidekick Solomon end up “saving California for the Union. What a privilege.” Though readers may not find the story believable, they will learn a lot of history in Robinet’s (Missing From Haymarket Square, 2001, etc.) latest work as she includes most of the important events in the history of slavery: the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott decision, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, along with the lesser-known story of California’s role in the march toward civil war. Likable characters put a human face on history in this story of a journey across America at a time when people and news traveled slowly, a journey in which “shackles of mind and body” are thrown off and new responsibilities assumed. Fans of historical fiction might enjoy this work, and the focus on California and the Pony Express may fill a gap in library collections. (map, author’s note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 9-14)