This stirring YA novel explores the particular dangers that beset black girls in the antebellum South. When she turns 15, Willow discovers that her favored-slave status counts for little with the two men she relies upon most: her kindly master and her protective father. They dictate which man she will marry because, she is told, “a girl like you can’t afford to think of love.” Life becomes increasingly grim when the master begins courting a sickly, exacting woman with a randy teenaged son. Willow pens her thoughts and fears in a copybook that she must then hide far from the house because it is illegal for slaves to read and write. Cato, a free black man, finds it and tries to persuade her to escape with him up North — only to be captured himself. Willow fights for his freedom with her quick wits and knowledge of herbs and remedies. Although the conversations between Willow and Cato can sometimes read like speeches on gender equality, readers will be caught up in the girl’s quiet bravery and her search for the truth behind her mother’s mysterious, long-ago death. Even as Tonya Cherie Hegamin reveals slavery’s dehumanizing effect on every character — black and white, owned and owner — she also celebrates the power of friendship and love.
By Tonya Cherie Hegamin
Candlewick. $16.99. Age 14 and up