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Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Little More Magic, A Little Less Lecture Needed in Slavery Time Travel Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Lillie, a 13-year-old slave girl who's spent her whole life working at Greenfog Plantation in Beaufort County, South Carolina, knows she shouldn't even be dreaming of freedom. If the thought ever leaked out of her brain and across her lips, she could face serious punishment, even death. Entertaining such notions is as dangerous as handling an angry rattlesnake, but Lillie does it anyway. Freedom is an especially cruel dream for her, since she was supposed to have been liberated along with her mother and 6-year-old brother in exchange for her father's service with the Confederate Army. Only when her papa died, he had a large amount of money on his person, more than any slave could possibly have gained honestly. Not alive to defend himself, her father was branded a thief. His dishonorable discharge negated the promises made to him by his owner, keeping Lillie and her family trapped on the plantation.

Already devastated by the death of her father, Lillie is heartbroken when she learns her little brother, Plato, is to be sold. She can't stand the thought of him leaving and she knows her mother would—literally—not be able to live through another loss. Lillie has to think of a way to stop the slave buyers from taking Plato, but what can a small, powerless girl like her do? Maybe nothing, alone. With the help of some ancient magic, though, she might just be able to save her brother and a few other people, too. What Lillie doesn't realize is that messing with hoodoo of any kind can be dangerous and that traveling back in time might mean learning truths she's not ready to hear. Was Lillie's father really as virtuous as she believes him to be? And, if he was, can she clear his name in time to save Plato?

I've read a number of slavery stories, but I can't remember ever encountering one with a time travel element. Until I picked up Freedom Stone by Jeffrey Kluger, that is. I'm always interested in children's books on slavery and I was curious to see what the author—a writer and editor at Time Magazine, who wrote The Sibling Effect as well as other non-fiction books—might do with this kind of story, one so dissimilar from his usual fare. And, of course, I had to see how he used the magic of time travel to enhance its telling. My conclusion? I liked the book, but didn't love it. The omniscient point-of-view made the tale feel a little too distant, a little too lecture-y. I'm all for getting a good history lesson while I read, I just want it to be so well woven into the story that I forget I'm learning while being entertained. The ending also seemed too rushed to me, making Lillie's fight for her freedom feel too easy. All in all, though, I enjoyed the story.

Now that I know Kluger can tell stories that are intriguing and entertaining—whether fiction or non—I'll be keeping a close eye on him to see just what he's going to do next.

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mature subject matter and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find


  1. "The Freedom Maze" by Delia Sherman just came out this year and is another time travel to the Old South book. It's gotten really good reviews, if you want to try another book with a similar premise for comparison.

    Here's its Goodreads page:

  2. Reminds me of "47" by Mosley. Has some magical elements including time travel. Different, but good.

  3. Just worried about ya>>>>

    Miss you and your updates!! Hope all is well.

  4. LHughes & Annette - Thanks for the recommendations. I'll definitely check them both out.

    Gaye - You're so sweet! I've just been busy doing some writing for a conference I'm going to soon and entertaining a house full of company. New reviews will be coming soon, I promise!


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