Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  In the author’s note, we learn that during slavery, enslaved people sometimes escaped into the swamps and lived there for years.  This story imagines such a community called Freewater, populated by those who escaped slavery and their children who have only known freedom.  Homer and Ada accidentally stumble upon Freewater while trying to escape north.  They’re taken in and soon get to know the different people there and the ways they’ve developed to survive and avoid capture.  But Homer is harboring a secret: he feels like it’s his fault that his mama was caught and sent back to the plantation the night of their escape.  Through his first-person narration and the third-person stories of many other characters from both the plantation and Freewater, the reader slowly learns of a plan to return and free Mama.  Each person has a part to play in the fiery and satisfying climax of the story, and the last page suggests a happy ending for all of them.  Includes an author’s note.  416 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I’m always wowed when an author hits a home run with a debut novel. Amina Luqman-Dawson had done that here with a complex historical fiction story that will stay with readers long after the last page.  A definite contender for either Newbery or Coretta Scott King awards.

Cons:  Some reviewers recommend this for as young as third grade.  With the many characters, the shift between first-person and third-person narration, the unfamiliar setting, and the 400-page length, it requires a pretty sophisticated reader.

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