Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: The Freedom Maze

On a recent car trip, I was kept mesmerized for hours by The Freedom Maze, an audio book by Delia Sherman that combines fascinating historical fiction with just a touch of magic.  The book is intended for ages 10 and up and is an excellent choice for both older middle-grade readers and teens (and adults like me!).

In Louisiana in1960, thirteen-year old Sophie is feeling displaced.  Her parents have recently split up, and her mother is learning to be an accountant and selling their nice house in the suburbs to move herself and Sophie to an apartment in New Orleans.  She sends Sophie off for the summer to her aunt’s house, an old plantation home in southern Louisiana, where Sophie spend boring days listening to her grandmother’s stories of the old days, wandering around the grounds, and exploring the old maze in the garden.

Sophie longs for adventure of the sort she reads about in books by C.S. Lewis and E. Nesbit, but when she makes a wish and gets whisked back in time to 1860, she gets more than she bargained for.  With her unruly curly hair, tan, and dirty, bare feet, she is mistaken for a slave on her family’s working sugar plantation.  The matriarch (Sophie’s great, great-grandmother) can see the family resemblance in her nose, so she assumes Sophie is the product of the union between a family member down the river at another plantation and a slave.  From there, the story follows Sophie as she enters the world of slavery in pre-Civil War Louisiana.

Sherman tells a mesmerizing story here, with ample historical details.  The minutiae of the slaves’ lives presented here is a fascinating side of history that is rarely presented.  And Sherman doesn’t shrink from the darker side of the story; there is a scene where a slave is beaten and plenty of intimations of rape (and the results of it).  She handles it all with care, though, weaving together an amazing story, following both Sophie growing up, as well as the political movements of the time toward the start of the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, as Sophie’s grandmother still calls it!).

I loved this book, and the audio production was excellent.  The longer I listened, the more I wanted to hear.  I could hardly stand to get out of the car after 3 hours because I wanted to hear how it ended!  This unique novel will captivate fans of both historical fiction and time travel novels.

Random House Audio


 

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