THE SECRET ROAD by Robert Nordan


Age Range: 9 - 12
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An earnest story about the Underground Railroad. When Laura leaves her parents’ plantation to spend the summer at her Quaker aunt and uncle’s farm, she is only looking forward to relief from her mother’s endless attempts to turn her into a lady. But when she discovers that her aunt and uncle are harboring a pregnant fugitive escaping to the North, she decides to help. Rosetta, the enslaved woman, is light-skinned enough to “pass,” so the two set out to travel together as sisters to Philadelphia. This serves as the point of embarkation for a series of adventures including a steamship ride, an encounter with the student body of a girls’ school and its redoubtable headmistress, and finally rescue at the hands of a sympathetic carnival owner. While this is no doubt a well-meaning story, there is something distasteful about the reduction of Rosetta to what amounts to a plot device to launch an adventure for Laura. Rosetta does get the opportunity to tell her own story, but then she largely recedes into the background, emerging to utter worried statements or to giggle girlishly with Laura over the trick they are playing on the slave catchers. Laura’s own growing awareness of the evils of the Peculiar Institution is chronicled sporadically in musings such as the following (upon seeing a chained group of captives on a city street): “Her chest became tight, and she could hardly breathe. She had never viewed such a scene of sorrow. Or had she only looked the other way? The slaves who worked her papa’s fields must have trudged down such streets, torn form their families and their homes.” Sentimental and somehow trivializing, riddled with barely believable plot contrivances, this is one to skip. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8234-1543-0
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Holiday House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2001