A debut YA novel about the American slave trade in the 1840s and ’50s features historical commentary and discussion questions for readers.
In Mississippi, Mary Anne and Lizzie, two young slave girls and fast friends, are racing and laughing when, rounding a bend in the road, they are snatched by traders. Because the importing of slaves was banned in 1808, they are even more valuable, especially for the burgeoning trade in newly settled Texas. The girls are taken to New Orleans, the Texas port of Indianola, and eventually to the Jackson plantation near present-day Austin. Along the way, they meet Henri, who gives them practical advice, and Minerva, who reminds them to keep true to their minds and hearts, regardless of whatever evil is visited upon them. The girls witness a short-lived uprising onboard the Endeavor in the Gulf of Mexico, but the heroic rebels are betrayed by Tommy, the conflicted mulatto cabin boy. More adventures await the girls at the Jackson plantation, where Missy Nellie, the owner’s wife, is dangerously unpredictable and seems to have a special animus toward their new young friend, Noah, another mulatto. Lizzie gets a place as a cook, and Mary Anne is assigned as a helper—mainly as a seamstress—to wise old Tempie. Mary Anne had been taught to read, a skill that must be kept secret but will come in very handy. The intriguing plot eventually involves a covert cotton-ginning operation and the buying of Noah’s freedom, which involves raising money on the sly and a lot of dangerous sneaking around by Mary Anne and Lizzie. Cooper tells an engaging story with no annoying textual slips. Mary Anne and Lizzie are strong, spunky characters, though their hard-won lessons try them severely. The historical addendum gives readers virtually two books in one, and there is also a short bibliography. While this could be a valuable classroom text, the absorbing tale should appeal to both teens and adults.
A straightforward slavery story told with striking skill and sensitivity.