What I Read in February 2016 Part III . . .Good Fortune by Noni Carter--Young Adult historical fiction
When Anyanna Bahati was four years old, she was cruelly ripped away from her mother and the only life she ever knew in Africa. Despite the Atlantic slave trade being made illegal several years earlier, Ayanna endured the Middle Passage to end up a slave in Tennessee. For ten years Ayanna, now known as Sarah, has worked in the fields of the Williams plantation. She loves her foster mother Mary and her brother Daniel, but is haunted by dreams and memories of the past. Sarah longs for something more out of life. When the young master and mistress go to school, Sarah discovers her passion for learning. She teaches herself to read and write a bit on the sly but it's not enough. She yearns for freedom. When she meets a young slave preacher, John, she finds in him a kindred spirit. His soul is free just like hers and together they can fly away from reality without leaving earth. Then the Master's eldest son comes to bother Sarah and warns John away. Without John, without freedom, Sarah's life is meaningless. She knows she can't stand to bear Master's child. When she discovers John, her brother Daniel and some friends plan to run on Christmas, she knows she must go with them or she'll surely die. Complications ensue and Sarah must have the courage to not only take her freedom, but define what freedom means for her and figure out how to get it.
This story takes place in the 1820s after the Atlantic slave trade had been abolished. Many people ignored the law (some from my own northern state) and officials looked the other way. After the abolition of the slave trade, trade between states became more common and also "breeding" plantations where slave owners took advantage of enslaved women to force them to bear slave children against their will. Despite the Master not taking advantage of his slaves that way, his eldest son is a young man under the influence of some unsavory friends who think nothing of having a little "fun" at the expense of someone they consider less human. This is the reality the main character faces in this novel. As such, the first half of the story is pretty tough to read. The plot gets a little better later on, but most of the story is very slow. It wasn't until the last third of the book that I couldn't put it down. This book is very long for a Young Adult novel and I thought perhaps the story could have been split into two books or even a family saga - a sort of Roots for young adults. The story seemed very antebellum but the author did her research so I guess it's accurate. There is a LOT going on here and it seems like too much for one novel. Yes those things happened and all that could have happened to one person but for the sake of a story and keeping track of characters and what's going on, it's too much. The way the story is intertwined with Sarah's dreams is a bit confusing at first. There is a romance between Sarah and her friend John but being slaves, they are not allowed to be together. There's another romance later in the book.
This story is largely character driven. The struggles Sarah faces are both universal to enslaved people and also to African-Americans even today. She also faces an internal struggle- What does freedom mean to her? Does she accept what is or does she fight for more? Should she fight and how? I liked her character development as she grew older and discovered more about herself and what she wanted. I felt she was a bit reckless at times but not stupidly so. She's a strong female character to inspire all girls. Sarah fights for what she believes in and what she wants. She feels things deeply and loves and is loved in return, yet I never fully felt like she was a much-loved, memorable character. I admired her strength but just didn't connect with her, which I should have because education is a big part of my life. It took her way too long to realize how she cold make a difference. I thought of it right away. I liked her solution to injustice but in that place and time, it was dangerous.
Daniel's character growth was excellent. At first I thought he was too full of anger, that he was going to get killed for doing something reckless. I didn't necessarily agree with everything he believed would make his life better. He grows a lot and learns to fight in a way that will make a difference at this time, much like Sarah.
Mary, Daniel's mother and Sarah's foster mother, is a complicated character. She loves her children and wants what's best for them but she also accepts her situation. She knows how to keep safe. She doesn't want to rock the boat.
John is my favorite character. I liked the way he could be free in his mind. I liked his hopes and dreams and how he made Sarah feel. I teared up in parts of his story.
My favorite character was Miss Rosa. She's strong, smart and brave. I love how she helped Sarah on her journey of personal growth. She's an inspiring character.
I liked this book a lot but it's not the best book about an enslaved girl I remember reading but I think it's very timely and young readers can learn a lot. They can learn to think about the issues in the stories and how those issues are still relevant today. The author is a young adult and she's a girl after my own heart. She was fascinated by family stories about her 4 xs great-grandmother and researched all she could before writing her novel.