Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006. 978-0689821813
Winner of the 2007 Coretta Scott King Book Award
Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives a peaceful life in her African village until the day a group of white slave traders steals her, sells her, and sends her on a ship across the ocean to America, where she is sold once again. Polly is an indentured servant who must take on the burden of working off both of her parents’ indentures after their deaths. Both girls have very little left that is their own, except for a small spark of hope that makes them believe that perhaps they will be able to one day be free.
Why I picked it up: I had heard good things about Draper’s work and was eager to delve into her writing.
Why I finished it: Told in alternating viewpoints, Draper has woven together a tale of two unlikely friends whose fates become intertwined. They become forced to rely on each other, though at first they are reluctant to extend the olive branch. Amari is young and carefree until she is confronted with the harsh reality of the world beyond her village. She is forced to watch people she knows and loves die both in body and in spirit, planting seeds of doubt in her mind as to whether or not it is worth staying alive. In contrast, Polly is no stranger to hardship and the blatant unfairness of the system, struggling to become a lady as her mother wished for her. She struggles to seem competent in the face of her new employer, reluctant to accept help from the African slaves. Both girls are striving for the same goals, but it takes a while for them to recognize it. Draper’s characters represent two different forms of slavery in the early 18th century, and both shed light on the difficulties of maintaining a sense of self and a sense of hope. What intrigued me the most about the story was the thoroughness of Draper’s research and the partial list of resources provided in the afterword. The slave trade was an important, if not unfortunate, part of our history, and though this work is fictional, it gives the reader a starting point to do their own research. For many, this is part of a personal history; so many African Americans are descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage, part of who they are, part of their heritage. It’s a touching story that invites the reader to examine the complicated relationships on early American plantations and the idea that hope is eternal though it is often hard to see.
Other related materials: Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper; Fire from the Rock by Sharon M. Draper; The Jericho Trilogy by Sharon M. Draper; Forged by Fire by Sharon M. Draper; The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox; Sold by Patricia McCormick; Nightjohn by Gary Paulson; Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children by Kimbery Brubaker Bradley; Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson Day of Tears by Julius Lester; The Glory Field by Walter Dean Meyers; Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson