Book: Slave Girl
Author: Betsy Hayes
Genre: Mid-grade Historical Fiction
My grade: A
Summary: The story follows a girl named Clowslip who is sold from the plantation of her birth to Colonel Sprague to watch his three young children while his wife is away. There she meets her new fellow slaves who have a range of opinions on what it means to be a slave and who with the master all have different ideas about what path she should follow. Cowslip struggles to discover her own sense of self and identity in the midst of this chaos.
What I learned: Despite the older writing style involving a bit too much introspection for the current narrative tastes of mid-grade fiction this was a strong book. I thought from glancing at this that I’d like it and I did very much. The historical setting was well researched, providing clear details, using period language, and established the historical setting well. However, it never took a back seat to the story itself. This was very much a story of searching for personal identity and remained so.
The book was very centered on its theme and used simple literary devises to support it throughout the book. Cowslip’s bandana given to her by the woman who raised her is used nicely in several places as a symbol of identity, self-realization, and change. One of the major secondary characters, a man named Job, is a man who once was free and was kidnapped by slave traders who burnt his papers and sold him back into slavery.
Also, the religious beliefs of the character, a mix of Christianity and hoodoo were well presented. I wonder if this, however, is one of the reasons this book lies forgotten in the library stack. We are reminded how the masters used the bible to justify the enslavement of black people, and while some characters argue against it, it isn’t shown with any more rightness than the hoodoo. While many characters are skeptical, Cowslip remains strong in her belief in aspects of both religions. I see this more as part of her journey to find her personal and cultural identity than any statement in either set of beliefs. Characters are show on both sides of the debate, and I feel I learned a lot of what makes a successful literary minded mid-grade novel.