True North

Brief Description: 14 yo white girl helps African American runaway slave girl, told in alternating points of view.

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Historical Era:

Date Range: 1860s

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Original Publication: 1996

Suitable for Grades: 7-10th

Target Audience: Teen

Librarian's Review

After a slightly confusing prologue, this novel opens on a harrowing scene:  A fleeing teen African American slave girl stares down the barrel of Harriet Tubman’s pistol while cradling a stillborn infant, the result of her owner’s exploitation.  She must make a choice – continue her Underground Railroad journey with Tubman or give her baby a dignified resting place out of reach from slave hunters’ dogs, heard in the distance amid the Great Dismal Swamp.  Afrika’s indecision is endangering the group.

Meanwhile, six hundred miles away, a fourteen-year-old girl, daughter of a privileged Boston family, dreads the upcoming wedding of her older sister.  Adventurous and independent, Lucy would rather spend time learning to sail with her medical doctor grandfather than discuss dress fabrics and guest lists.  When she discovers that many in her family’s social circle, including her beloved grandfather, are hiding a secret, she is determined to solve the mystery.

The story is alternately told by these two sympathetic narrators over the course of a year, as Afrika makes her solo way north, and Lucy slowly discovers, after his death, her grandfather’s role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.  Lucy’s maritime skills luckily come in handy when she at last encounters Afrika.  Additional materials include an author’s note in which she explains her inspiration for the story, and that many of the Boston abolitionists in Lucy’s orbit and the railroad conductors that help Africa are based on real historical figures.  Also included is a bibliography for further reading.  The compelling depiction of Lucy’s journey would be a wonderful introduction to the Underground Railroad for slightly older readers.

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