Two scruffy, scraggly bearded soldiers in sky-blue trousers and dark-blue sack coats flanked the root cellar doors. Musket rifles at the ready.
From astride a bay steed, a third white man--crisp, clean shaven, long, lean--looked down on her and the boy. (pp. 8-9)What a way to set the scene! Although this isn't the opening of Crossing Ebenezer Creek, through the use of precise details the author, Tonya Bolden, quickly establishes the time, place, and some of the characters the reader will meet.
|ABest Book of 2017, Young Adult|
One of the men who liberates the plantation is a black soldier, Caleb. He is immediately drawn to her.
Mariah. Strong, proud-sounding name. But then he remembered that passage in Exodus about a place named Mariah. "A place of bitter water," Caleb said to himself.
How bitter her days? Caleb speculated on how much hell Mariah had endured, especially with her being such a pretty one. Mahogany. Her dark eyes had a shine like diamonds. Lips a bit pouty. Button nose. (p. 25)I love how this paragraph with it's small snippet of dialogue reveals so much:
When the signal to fall in came, Caleb looked back, saw Mariah heading for his wagon. His heart sank when she climbed into the back, but then his spirit soared when she pulled a quilt out of one of her sacks and placed it over Zeke and Dulcina.
"Captain Galloway gave you some good news?" Mariah asked as she rejoined Caleb in the buckboard.
"Not really. Why?"
"You look like you won a prize or something." (p. 37)As more people join the march, or as Mariah calls, "one moving wound," the two very slowly get to know one another. And like the slow moving march itself, their friendship and love develop slowly. Each one has deep wounds in their past that make trusting each other almost impossible.
Ms. Bolden reveals Mariah's and Caleb's backstories through flashbacks. In this one, Mariah remembers Nero, the slave driver who constantly harassed her. She would always be on the look out for,
Him peeping at her through the cookhouse door, making nasty gestures.
Him trying to sneak up on her when she headed to the chicken coop.
Him once just staring at her, mumbling about extra dresses, more food, and how she was to respect the white in him. (p.105)
Caleb's backstory comes out when he tells Mariah about the white man he almost killed because he had killed his sister, Lily.
"You killed the man?" Mariah interrupted when Caleb told of picking up a brick.
"Was about to when something came over me. It wasn't like I heard some still, small voice. More like I saw myself becoming a worse evil, knew if I murdered the man, his blood...never enough. Me, I'd never be right. I'd only soil my soul." (p. 189)I appreciated the Christian sub-theme that ran throughout the book. At one point Captain Galloway is training new soldiers to help the ex-slaves. Caleb sits in on one of the captain's talks "where he [the captain] handed out tracks about slavery. And now he watched him put another plan into action, starting with Privates Sykes and Dolan. "They say they are Christians. I want to help them prove it."
The privates are given the job of distributing food. Later in that scene one of the privates says, "I was just--it sounds like we'll be serving them...them."... "You will be serving your Lord and Savior," said Captain Galloway. (p. 53-4)
I don't want to give away the ending, but it crept up on me and although in retrospect I saw it was predictable--yet it still surprised me. Based on the true account of Ebenezer Creek, this beautifully written story will be useful in the classroom and appeal to both girls and boys, as well as adults. I highly recommend it.
I am giving away this middle grade novel for boys and girls in conjunction with the spring issue of Talking Story on Prejudice. Leave a comment here for one chance; leave a comment through the newsletter and I'll enter your name twice. Giveaway ends April 30th.