Isabel and her sister Ruth have been slaves their entire lives. On the eve of the American Revolution, their owner dies and sets them free in her will. But because of the turmoil, no one bothers to find the lawyer or read the will, so Isabel and Ruth are inherited and sold to a cruel Tory family who lives in New York. There Isabel tries her hardest to free herself and her sister just as her country tries to free itself from British rule. After all, if a country can be free, why can’t two little girls?
Slavery during the American Revolution isn’t something we always think about. There is so much going on in the period that I think we tend to get excited about Americans winning our independence from Britain and completely ignore the fact that we chose to keep thousands of people enslaved at the same time simply because of the color of their skin. Laurie Halse Anderson rightly points out how utterly wrong this was by writing this compelling tale of two sisters who are legally free but trapped because white people simply don’t care and don’t want to bother finding out the truth.
Anderson is a master at creating characters’ voices and I just adored Isabel’s, who is the narrator of this story. I felt for her the whole way through the book and I really, really wanted her to win freedom for herself and her sister. Her every failure broke my heart, especially when it wasn’t her fault. She’s just a child and that really becomes clear – it’s horrible how she’s treated. Somehow, though, this book is more readable than many books about slavery. Even though Isabel suffers, she doesn’t get beaten down. She has a fantastic spirit and I think it enlivens the whole book because hope remains in the darkest times for her.
It also speaks to Anderson’s talent that she took an era in which I have relatively little interest, for whatever reason, and make it the background for an utterly compelling book. I had never known that the British promised freedom to the slaves to get them on their side, for example. I’ve only ever read one book set in New York City at this time, The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins, and I was intrigued by the parallels and differences told by each author.
I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.