30. April 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman, 258 pages, read by Courtney, on 04/08/2014

The year is 1960 and 13-year-old Sophie is being forced to live with her Aunt and Grandmother in rural Louisiana for the summer. Sophie, who usually lives in New Orleans with her single mother, is not happy even though it means she won’t have to worry about her mother’s criticism all summer long. Sophie’s aunt lives on what is left of the Fairchild family’s once-grand sugar cane plantation. There’s not much to do on the plantation, so Sophie spends her time outdoors exploring. On one of her excursions, she encounters a strange creature that grants her wish for adventure, family and friends. Sophie subsequently finds herself transported back in time to 1860. The plantation in 1860 is vastly different from the dusty, sleepy farm that Sophie had previously explored. This is the plantation’s hay-day; all the structures are new and solid, the atmosphere thrums with life. The Fairchilds have nearly 200 slaves working their crops and, when Sophie makes her first appearance, she is mistaken for a light-skinned slave. Realizing that attempting to tell her slave-owning ancestors that she’s traveled from the future would probably not make her transition any easier, Sophie begins to assume the identity of a slave.
Sophie’s journey is particularly fascinating because she originates from a pre-Civil-Rights-Movement South. Racism is still a part of everyday life even if slavery is a thing of the past. Sophie not only has to learn to fit in where she is uncomfortable, she experiences the bigotry first-hand. Sophie quickly discovers that the past is far more complicated than she had ever dreamed.
This book could have been a rip-off of other “modern-girl-travels-to-her-ancestors-past” books like Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic or Octavia Butler’s Kindred, but it most certainly is not. For one, Sophie is white, which takes her even farther out of her comfort zone. For another, Sherman weaves in themes from African mythology to paint a sophisticated portrait of a subjugated people. Linguistically, Sherman’s approach feels very authentic and she never shies away from the discomfiting details that flesh out daily life on the plantation. Sherman does, however, keep things appropriate for a younger audience by writing around some of the more violent aspects of antebellum life. It is still a sophisticated novel and will require a measure of dedication from readers, particularly younger ones. This book won’t have broad appeal, but it’s definitely worth a read.

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