Set free by her mistress, can a young slave find true freedom up North? Or will she discover that there is more than one way to be enslaved?
Leveen’s debut novel brings to life the true story of a young slave woman. Her abolitionist-leaning mistress, Bet Van Lew, sets Mary and her mother, Minnie, free. Yet Mary’s father and Minnie’s husband, Lewis, remains enslaved as a blacksmith to his master. So freedom proves more difficult than either woman had anticipated. Under Virginia law, Mary and her mother may stay in the Commonwealth only a year after being set free. After that mark, either could be resold into slavery. Unwilling to leave her husband, Minnie chooses a dangerous path of deception, pretending to still be a slave. Hoping for a better life for their daughter, Lewis and Minnie send her North to be educated in Philadelphia. Once north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Mary swiftly learns that racism persists, even among the freed slaves themselves. She gains a fine education and deep friendships. Yet Mary must also learn to negotiate the bewildering rules of living in a racist and classist society: being exiled to the Negro benches, enduring unwarranted insults and having to hide her own family’s secrets. After her mother dies, Mary realizes that time is wasting. She begins to see clearly that true freedom depends on everyone being free. After rejecting a flattering—yet essentially insulting—marriage proposal, Mary discovers the courage to return to Virginia for her father, to work with the Underground Railroad for other slaves and even to spy for the Union army. And along the way, she finds true love.
Deftly balancing history, romance and adventure, Leveen honors the life and historical importance of a brave, resourceful woman.