Fifth in a series of children’s books, this fictional diary recounts how a widow’s mystical sessions affect a 13-year-old slave girl’s family.
Beginning in June 1725, Camellia Cassandra writes in her diary that “nothing exciting ain’t NEVER going to happen on this here New Ashley Hall plantation!” (Her literacy, or how she got a diary, isn’t explained.) Most of the North Carolina plantation’s 43 slaves labor in the fields, but when Camellia and her two sisters get a chance to serve in the Big House, they soon discover it’s harder work than dusting a few knickknacks. Pansy Pearl, the runt, is tasked with looking after the Hightowers’ sickly baby. Then, when the plantation gets visitors—Jimbo Studebaker is courting Miss Charlene Hightower—Camellia and Myrtle Millicent are brought in to clean bedrooms and look after the guests. Though the girls no longer have to fear leeches and gators, they’re more directly under the thumbs of their white owners. If the marriage comes off, the siblings will be separated and Camellia will have to leave behind her boyfriend, Barn Boy Jesse. But when the white folks ask Ole Widow Brown, reputed to be an Obeah woman, to raise spirits of the dead, Jimbo seems more interested in pirate ghosts than his intended. Can the wedding be stopped? McWilliams (Diary of a Black Seminole Girl, Ebony Noel, 2016, etc.) writes in an entertaining, vivacious voice that’s much the same from book to book, full of capitalized words, multiple exclamation points, dialect, and many sentences beginning with “That’s when.” Although the indignities of slavery underlie the novel’s plot, Camellia’s irrepressible sense of fun stands up to them well. Widow Brown’s conjuring sessions provide much amusement. Stede Bonnet speaks: “I grow weary and wants to go back to the here and beyond where I gots BLUE SKY, WHITE CLOUDS, PURTY ANGELS, and PEACE from WHITE BOYS what think they knowd ’bout PIRATES!” An author’s note provides more information on slave narratives.
An exuberant narrator, a conjure woman, and a pirate-mad white suitor enliven this tale.