It was a secret everybody knew at Monticello: Thomas Jefferson was the father of Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings, and their mother was Sally Hemings, a slave owned by Jefferson.
Most people now have a vague idea of this story and the issues it raises about Jefferson, the author of the words that founded a nation: “All men are created equal.” Bradley offers the first fully realized novel for young readers and tells it from the points of view of Beverly, Madison and another enslaved boy on the plantation. The characters spring to life, and readers will be right there with Beverly when his mother scolds him for referring to Master Jefferson as “Papa.” Readers may wonder why, when three-quarters through the novel, the point of view shifts from Beverly and Madison to Peter Fossett, a slave but not one of Jefferson’s sons. But this additional perspective becomes crucial to the wrenching conclusion of this fascinating story of an American family that represents so many of the contradictions of our history. The afterword is as fascinating as the novel, telling what later happened to each of the characters, and a small but excellent bibliography will lead readers to books and websites for further study.
A big, serious work of historical investigation and imagination; the tale has never before been told this well. (Historical fiction. 9-14)