An educated slave girl struggles against the confines of race and gender in this coming-of-age story set in 1848 on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.
Fifteen-year-old Willow, taught to read by her master, writes letters at her mother’s grave, located within sight of the granite Mason-Dixon Line marker. Papa, whom Willow adores—until she finds out what really has happened to her mother—is as controlling as any white master and determined to marry Willow off to a brute from the neighboring plantation. Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award–winning author Hegamin (Most Loved in All the World, 2009, etc.) juxtaposes Willow’s first-person narration with Cato’s story: a free black 17-year-old aspiring to lead slaves to freedom. When the teens’ lives intersect, they fall in love at first sight, precipitating tumultuous results. This arresting story, richly historical, with an engaging narrator and well-drawn secondary characters, is unfortunately marred. The authenticity of Willow’s voice, with its awkward sentence structure and dialect, may make the book difficult to access for many in the intended audience. The lack of distinct chapters adds to confusion, as the narrative shifts between the two main characters’ stories. The author has researched deeply, but historical tidbits adding local color are so numerous as to impede the plot’s progression and even to feel didactic.
A gripping but uneven exploration of the anguishing impact of slavery. (Historical fiction. 14-17)