Book Review: Dear America: Look to the Hills, The Diary of Lozette Moreau, A French Slave Girl (New York Colony, 1763) by Patricia McKissack

51mkd5qcv8l_1__1It is 1763, and Lozette, or “Zettie,” is the African servant to a French family in Province. She was bought to be a companion to Marie-Louise (“Ree”) Boyer. Companion slaves were somewhat elite, as they are well-educated, well-dressed, and taught the same as their masters, to make them fit for the company of the upper-class. When Ree’s father passes away, her cruel and reckless older brother Pierre squanders his inheritance. To pay his debt and keep out of prison, he plans to sell Zettie and betrothed Ree to an old banker. But with the help of some friends, Ree arranges an escape for her and Zettie, and they make their way from Spain to the North American Colonies to find Ree’s other brother, Jacques, who has been held captive by Indians in Delaware while fighting in the war. Thus begins Zettie and Ree’s new life in the New York Colony during the French and Indian War.

It did sometimes feel like the author was trying to write a textbook. A lot of the history and names recounted seem unlikely to be coming from a 13-year-old slave girl. However, one scene I found memorable was toward the end, when Zettie meets Lot, a former African slave, who remembers life in Africa before he was taken and sold. Lot knows the details of his African heritage and he shares his stories and reveals bits of Zettie’s own heritage to her.

Book Review: Dear America: Color Me Dark, The Diary of Nellie Lee Love, The Great Migration North (Chicago, Illinois 1919) by Patricia McKissack

colormeNellie Lee Love lives with her family at their undertaking business in the Corners of Tennessee. The Loves are a close-knit family, and Nellie is especially close with her sister, who is the same age as her most of the year, Erma Jean. One interesting character aspect in this book is that Erma Jean loves words and poetry, and Nellie prefers numbers, often fittingly filling her diary with number games. All seems to be going well until the girls’ Uncle Pace dies a brutal, mysterious death. Erma Jean stops speaking, and their father decides to relocate the girls, their mother, and his undertaking business to Chicago, where it was believed African Americans would be safer from the racist crimes and killings, and from groups like the KKK, down South. However, the family arrives to Chicago only to find that there is just as much racism– murders, rioting– and a new form of classism between blacks, up North.

Many of twelve-year-old Nellie’s entries were about her parents’ activism, politics, historical crimes and riots that occurred, and references to many famous African American activists, writers, and historical figures and their works. The historical note in the back was the longest and most extensive I’ve seen yet, complete with detailed bios of the many notable African American figures throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries mentioned in the dairy. I found Nellie and her family to be lovable characters.

Book Review: Dear America: I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly, The Diary of Patsy, A Freed Girl (Mars Bluff, South Carolina 1865) by Joyce Hansen

i-thought-my-soul-would-rise-and-fly-by-joyce-hansen-on-bookdragon1-800x1155The protagonist of this Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel is Patsy, a freed slave down South after the Civil War, who walks with a limp and stutters. She is believed by most to be simple and dull-minded, but what she lacks in the realms of speech and expression, she makes up for in her rare ability to read and write quite proficiently, which she learned while attending to her former master’s children during their schooling. Though Patsy and the other former slaves are technically free, nothing about their lives and their work has truly changed. Most simply do not know where to go, or are indebted in some way and forced to continue serving the same master. This frustrates the African American community and the author does well in expressing the seeming hopelessness and anticlimax after the Civil War.

Lots of vivid characters, an interesting insight into the politics among servants and the dysfunctional households whom they served. A fairly good read and a satisfying ending.

Book Review: Dear America: A Picture of Freedom, The Diary of Clotee, A Slave Girl (Belmont Plantation, Virginia 1859) by Patricia McKissack

picture-of-freedom-2Clotee is a slave girl who has a deadly secret: she can read and write. She learned while fanning her master’s children while the Misses schooled them each day, and she practices in her diary which she must hide from the other slaves and their master’s family. In the meantime, she must put up with, and writes about, all of the politics among her fellow slaves and the master’s family. Eventually, the master’s children are given a new tutor who discovers Clotee’s secret. But because the man is an abolitionist, his goal is to help however he can. Eventually Clotee goes on to assist with the underground railroad, helping other slaves escape the harsh conditions of slavery and free themselves to reunite with their families and start life anew.