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ONCE ON THIS RIVER by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

ONCE ON THIS RIVER

By Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-88350-9
Publisher: Knopf

 From Wyeth (Always My Dad, 1995, etc.), an interesting historical novel set in an African-American community--made up of slaves and free blacks--in New York City and the Hudson River Valley circa 1760. Monday de Groot, 11, narrates; she is the daughter of a Madagascan midwife who is returning to her American birthplace to seek the release of her brother Frederick, who has been enslaved. On the voyage, Monday sees how the ``cargo''--Angolan and Sudanese slaves--are treated. Later, she also learns that the woman she thinks of as her mother was actually the midwife at her birth, to whose care Monday's slave mother entrusted her newborn in a desperate attempt to save the child from slavery. Wyeth's passion for the period--and for prodigious research--is evident; her sense of the human drama is intense; the descriptive passages are evocative. Still, some of the dialogue will elicit winces. Such obvious anachronisms as ``okay'' are inappropriate, and the use of the second-person pronouns and their corresponding verbs in the speech of the Quaker characters is entirely muddled. Further, the book's happy ending is not earned, with dramatic moments occurring offstage (e.g., the freeing of Frederick, and the escape of Monday's slave brother with his freeborn sweetheart). Finally, the denouement is entirely predicated upon the unlikely conversion of a venal ship's captain from slave trafficker to abettor of runaways. A mixed effort, with many impressive moments. (Fiction. 10-14)