MrsK's Seasoned Reader Picks

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Freedom's Price by Michaela MacColl

ISBN: 9781620916247
Publisher's Synopsis:
Eliza Scott isn’t quite a slave, but she’s not free either. She’s not a prisoner, but her family lives in a jail. Eliza, who attends a secret floating school on the Mississippi River because it’s illegal for her to read, says she understands how dangerous her situation is—but her parents know she’s not afraid enough. When a devastating cholera epidemic strikes the city, Eliza discovers she will have to be clever and resourceful to escape a slave catcher and the worst fire in St. Louis’ history. Will Eliza be willing to pay the price of freedom? Freedom’s Price is the second book in the Hidden Histories series, which examines little known moments in American history. Based on actual events and people, the book is extensively researched and includes an author’s note and bibliography.

Guest Post:
The Hidden History series is meant to tell the stories of kids on the fringes, viewing history in the making through their eyes.  “Rory’s Promise” was about a penniless orphan from New York City sent to a remote mining town in Arizona in 1904.  Freedom’s Price is about Eliza Scott, a black girl, daughter of the famous Dred Scott, and what she’ll risk for her freedom. 

The next book is about about a Lipan Apache girl sent to the Carlisle Indian Boarding School to “assimilate.”  With each of these books I face the challenge of finding an authentic voice for my main characters. The more diverse my characters become, the harder this is to do!

I’ve written a series of literary mysteries for Chronicle Books – Emily Dickinson solving a murder based on a poem. Louisa May Alcott investigating a crime connected with her work with fugitive slaves. It was pretty easy to find their voices. These women left their writing behind – not just their literary output but also their letters and journals. And their friends and family wrote about them too. With Louisa May Alcott I also had the gift of Jo March – a lovable and engaging character she based on herself!

But how am I to find Eliza Scott’s voice? Her parents were illiterate. They spoke to the press exactly once.  Eliza never did. Although she could read, she didn’t leave behind any letters or journals. Instead I rely on my research and imagination. The non-fiction adult book “Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier” by Lea Vandervelde  was invaluable. The author faced the same problem so she mined all the information about what life was like and then accessed other narratives to weave together a plausible story about Harriet. Some of the people in Eliza’s life did leave a record behind, such as the preacher who stands up to the fugitive slave catcher and helps Eliza get an education.  I also used a narrative by a literate slave called “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself,” by Harriet Ann Jacobs. Jacobs lived at approximately the same time as Eliza and I loved her thoughtful way of expressing her outrage about the unfairness of her life’s struggles. And then I do what I always do when I’m writing about family relationships – I fall back on my own experience raising two daughters. I had no trouble at all writing a devastating fight between Eliza – who is trying to spread her wings even though it’s risky – and her mother – who is only trying to protect her.  So research + imagination = the secret sauce to finding voices in the past.

Thanks for having me visit. I’d love for your readers to visit my website.

MrsK's Review:
What Librarian doesn't like Historical Fiction? Many of us began our journeys with a book that allowed us to enter the past when we were young readers. Do you remember discovering life in a sod house with Laura from the Little House series? Did you discover great adventures with the American Girl series? Have you stepped into the diaries of those who experienced history in the Dear America series?

I fell for the Hidden Histories even before I opened Rory's Promise. There is something wonderful when you discover someones journey. Their strengths and weaknesses. Their hopes and fears. What they believed in and what they lived through. It must be the seed of hope that connects our journey to those who lived before us.

"Eliza Hates Lanndry
With a long stick, Eliza traced each letter carefully
into the muddy bank  of the mighty Mississippi River...
Eliza wants more."
What was she thinking? Being educated was not allowed. Staying free wasn't an option, even if you had papers. Anyone, anywhere, could turn you over to a slaver. For Eliza "freedom" meant being protected by her parents, a sponsor, a lawyer, and living at a jail while her family waited for their day in court. She had to stay close to her family and not draw attention to herself. Yet, being eleven meant that she had dreams "of boarding a steamboat and traveling far away." She longed for the day that she could "...make a life for herself that didn't involve laundry."

Sent to locate some fat drippings for soap, Eliza meets Wilson. Wilson has been free since the day he was born. He was raised on the river and he joined up on a boat because the cook promised that he could learn everything he needed to know, including how to be a pastry chef. Wilson believed that "dirty work" was a "fair trade for a dream." Together they will discover each other's strengths as their journey towards their "dreams" leads them beyond the safety of being born free.

Miss Charlotte is a sponsor who can provide the courts with proof that Eliza's family are not slaves, she hires out work for them and will do what she can as they wait for the courts decision. When she offers Eliza a job looking after Miss Sofia, Eliza believes she can look after herself. She would be away from her ma's protection. She would be free from doing laundry. She would be staying in Miss Charlotte's big house and not the jail. Of course Miss Charlotte's son would have already gone to California, so she didn't need to worry about his threats.

On the day that the crowd gathered at the jail, Eliza is faced with the reality of what can happen to any one's freedom. As her friend is put in the jail, Eliza discovers that Lucy is now a fugitive who ran from the slave block. She witnesses the fear of the Cholera sickness. And she faces the torment of the courts shutting down until the sickness is gone. For Eliza freedom is "snatched" away.

 "Ma might hate her for it, but Eliza wasn't going to make the same choice as Ma and Pa. 
She wouldn't just sit and wait for the courts."
Eliza is determined to make her own choices. What she isn't prepared for is a town filled with death. Desperate actions of those wanting money. Decisions that will lead her beyond safety and onto a ship destined for a slave auction far from home. Eliza will need to face her inner self, her inner strength. What can't Eliza do?
"We can't go ashore. We can't cross. We can't stay...
Eliza spotted a familiar ship...
It was like a prayer...
...the Freedom School!"

Eliza is a character that is full of freedom. Her dreams for a better life is her driving force. She is bright, quick thinking, and gifted with a talent overflowing with compassion. Her story is a beautiful introduction into the history of slavery. Her voice resonates the truth about freedom. Her choices provides the pacing for the story line and the reality of facing evil intentions head on with prayer. The friendship with Wilson provides the hope along the path that Eliza chose. And the quietly stated  "promise" is the thread that is seamlessly woven throughout Eliza's story as it is woven throughout our nation's history and the "price" of freedom.

A beautiful story of promise for independent readers,

An amazing journey into our past.
Historical fiction at its best... A must add to all school library shelves!
 Hidden Histories Series:
Rory's Promise: click to read the review
Meet the Authors:
about_michaelamaccoll_photo  Michaela attended Vassar College and Yale University earning degrees in multi-disciplinary history. Unfortunately, it took her 20 years before she realized she was learning how to write historical fiction. Her favorite stories are the ones she finds about the childhood experiences of famous people. She has written about a teenaged Queen Victoria (Prisoners in the Palace, Chronicle 2010) and Beryl Markham’s childhood (Promise the Night, Chronicle 2011). She is writing a literary mystery series for teens featuring so far a young Emily Dickinson in Nobody’s Secret (2013) and the Bronte sisters in Always Emily (2014).  She has recently begun a new series with Boyd’s Mill/Highlights called Hidden Histories about odd events in America’s past. The first entry in the series is Rory’s Promise and will be published in September 2014. She frequently visits high schools and has taught at the Graduate Institute in Bethel, CT.   She lives in Westport CT with her husband, two teenaged daughters and three extremely large cats.
unnamed2   Rosemary Nichols
I come by my love of history legitimately. On my father’s side of my family, my ancestors came to the “New World” in the middle of the 17th century. They came, respectively, to a small village in Quebec (Nicolet) and a Tidewater plantation in Virginia. My Canadian great-great grandfather migrated across the United States to California in the 1850s with his orphaned children, after surviving an exciting shipwreck off the coast of Baja California on his initial visit to California. His son, my great-grandfather, came to Arizona in 1873. The Nichols ancestors migrated from Tidewater Virginia to the Blue Ridge to Tennessee to Arkansas to Texas and finally in the 1870s to Tempe in the Valley of the Sun in Arizona.
My mother’s mother and father were part of a great migration in the early 20th century from Europe to the United States. They came in 1915 from Norway, moving through Ellis Island to Wisconsin to Idaho and then to Tacoma, Washington. My father was training as part of his service in the Navy during World War II and met my mother at Sand Point, Idaho. They married when the war ended and moved to Arizona. 
 I am co-authoring a two book series for Calkins Creek, a Boyds Mills Press imprint. The series is called “Hidden History”. The first book in the series, “Rory’s Promise”, was published in September 2014. The second book, “Freedom’s Price”, is about Dred Scott’s daughters in 1849 in St. Louis. 1849 was a terrible year for St. Louis. It had a cholera epidemic and a major fire just as Dred Scott’s family was seeking their freedom from slavery.
In addition, as a solo author I am just finishing the first book in a series on how the Civil War affects an upstate New York family. In this first book, members of the family are stolen into slavery in New Orleans in the days just before the Civil War begins. The book concerns the family’s efforts to rescue their relatives.
I am also doing the research on the destruction of the culture of the Plains Indians in the 1860s and 1870s, culminating in the Battle at the Little Big Horn. I intend also to cover the early days of the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pa.

 "I received this book for free for this review"

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