A tubercular boy is sent to live in a cave that might heal him.
Bradbury uses an odd historical fact to jump-start a story about the Underground Railroad. After his father dies from consumption, 12-year-old Elias, suffering from the same disease, is sent from eastern Virginia to live inside Kentucky's Mammoth Cave. This enormous underground labyrinth, already a tourist attraction in the 1840s, is also a sanitarium. Dr. John Croghan believes "cave vapors" can cure the disease, but he also tries restrictive diets, immobility, and horse-urine baths. Numerous slaves attend the patients and also lead tours of the caves; in their off hours they explore the cave's unknown edges. Bored and lonely, Elias begins to follow them, discovering that a far cavern actually houses runaway slaves—now trapped and running low on supplies due to guards at the entrances. Elias' family owns slaves, and he's never questioned slavery's morality, but in the darkness of Mammoth Cave he begins to change his views. Bradbury's plot falters a bit at the end, when a posse of men seems more bumbling than harmful, but she will hold readers throughout with a consistent third-person perspective focused through Elias and his gradual character development, not on the glories of the cave. Several pages of backmatter give insight into the history of the cave and the real Dr. Croghan, with suggestions for further reading.
A solid look at a fascinating historical side note. (Historical fiction. 8-14)