Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman is one of the best historical novels for teens that I have read in quite a while.

It's 1960, and thirteen-year-old Sophie is having a hard time living up to her mama's expectations. Sophie's mother is a Southern socialite, though recently divorced and now contemplating entering the workforce. While her mother attends school, Sophie is to be left at Oak Cottage with her aunt and grandmother. Oak Cottage is all that remains of the once-proud plantation that Sophie's mother's family has owned since the antebellum era. And, though Sophie's aunt is brusque and her grandmother imperious, Sophie enjoys the freedom of summertime, exploring the hedge maze and swimming in the bayou . . . until she meets an extremely strange little creature who whisks her through the hedge maze and back 100 years. Barefoot, sun-tanned, bedraggled, and strangely dressed, Sophie is taken for a slave by the 1860 residents of Oak River Plantation. It's assumed that a relative in New Orleans sent her to Oak River, and she is given a place as a house slave. At first Sophie hopes for a quick return to 1960, but as the days turn into weeks and then months, her life in the twentieth century fades in her memory, and she is caught up in the stories that unfold around her as she gets to know her ancestors from the perspective of the slaves who serve them. When a young slave woman is threatened by a young man who is courting the daughter of the family, will Sophie risk everything to help her escape? And will her efforts be enough?

I was completely wrapped up in this story. Sherman does a good job of creating nuanced characters, both in the slave quarters and in the big house. Both the 1860 story and the 1960 frame story are well-researched and have a ring of authenticity. The plot moves at the speed of a lazy Louisiana summer afternoon, but I felt that was all right for this book. Readers who enjoy historical fiction such as that written by Ann Rinaldi should give this story a try.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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