Children's Literature - Colleen Healy
The end of the Civil War is quickly approaching, but in 1865, many Texas slaves still remain unaware of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The Texan plantation-owning Holcomb family has kept the emancipation a secret out of fear of a slave uprising. Luli even keeps the secret from her ?adopted sister,' Sis Goose, who has been raised as a member of the family. When the secret finally comes to light, the oncetight-knit family is torn apart by lies, secrets, and tragedy, and Luli must grow up and fight to keep her family together. In this story of family, trust, betrayal, and heartache, the Civil War enters the homes of the Confederate state of Texas, and life is about to change drastically for both the plantation families and their slaves. This family that once proudly embraced their Southern honor must accept the fall of the South and adapt to a reunited America. Rinaldi has once again captured the historical voice of a Southern family impacted by war as they try to rebuild their lives during Reconstruction. Reviewer: Colleen Healy
VOYA - KaaVonia Hinton Johnson
During the Civil War when the slaves are set free, the Holcomb family must make a tough decision. Do they tell the slaves, including Sis Goose, their "adopted daughter," that they are free, or should they continue to maintain their standard of living like the other Texan slave owners? Rinaldi, award-winning author of historical fiction, uses the family's youngest child, Luli, to tell the family's story. Raised primarily by her two older brothers, Luli is a likeable first-person narrator who has spent much of her fourteen years in a war-torn country. After Union soldiers occupy her family's land, they can no longer ignore President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation or the fact that Sis Goose feels that the Holcombs have betrayed her. This book has it all-love, war, romance, and murder. Some middle school readers will find Luli's courageousness appealing, whereas others might wonder why Sis Goose is nearly voiceless, especially because she is a pivotal character in the story. Readers also might grow suspicious of the author's meticulous effort to portray the Holcombs as forced to deny the slaves their right to freedom for fear of an uprising rather than because they wanted to take full advantage of free labor for as long as they could. This book could be the springboard for interesting conversations about Texan slave owners' motives and the response of freedmen. An author's note sharing her impetus for writing the novel followed by a bibliography concludes the book.
KLIATT - Myrna Marler
A historical novel, by definition, means that much of the action is imagined. Yet Rinaldi often leaves readers pondering The Great Debate about how accurate a fiction writer must be about historical events. She has a habit of changing characterizations of historical characters to suit herself. This book is a prime example. Apparently, slaves in Texas were not notified of their liberty (it's unclear whether Rinaldi is referring to the Emancipation Proclamation, which was largely toothless since it applied only to states in rebellion during the war, or 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War). The plot, written with a white, mildly defensive tone of apologetics for slavery, is implausible. How likely is it that a white plantation owner would take an almost-white slave under his wing and treat her exactly like his daughter, even though everyone knows she is a slave, owned by the plantation owner's sister who threatens periodically to sell her off? And how likely is it that the son of the plantation owner would fall in love with this girl, impregnate her, and go off to fight Indians on the Texas border, while everyone approves of their upcoming nuptials? No, the big problem of the novel is that the people in Texas somehow kept the fact of the slaves' freedom from them for an additional two years in order to get the crops in and do all the other things slaves did. The theme is the evil of keeping secrets from beloved others. It all ends in tragedy, meaning Rinaldi does not have to deal with the consequences of miscegenation/marriage/childbirth during Reconstruction. Individual readers can decide how valuable such a historical novel is.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7 - The author's talent for bringing history to life is vividly showcased in this novel. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Texas slave owners, fearing an uprising, kept the fact a secret. They were finally forced to reveal the truth two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, which came to be known as Juneteenth and is celebrated to this day. In this story, 14-year-old Luli has grown up with Sis Goose, a young mulatto girl, technically a slave but raised as part of the family. Luli's father is an invalid and her mother is busy running the plantation, so her older brother, Gabriel, has assumed responsibility for her, teaching her to ride and shoot like a boy, and instilling in her a fierce independence. Although Sis Goose is like a sister to Luli, and Gabriel is in love with her, the family does not tell Sis Goose of her freedom, which results in a devastating tragedy. Luli's authentic voice demonstrates Rinaldi's ability to evoke the human side of history, and the novel's evenhanded approach portrays the moral ambiguities of the time fairly and honestly. Believable characters with human strengths and weaknesses, lively writing, and plenty of action and suspense make this book a real page-turner for lovers of historical fiction.-Quinby Frank, Green Acres School, Rockville, MDCopyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Technically owned by the Holcomb family's Aunt Sophia, the illegitimate "high yellow" Sis Goose (named for a Brer Rabbit-type story) has lived her entire life as an adopted and favorite member of the wealthy Texas family. Afraid of a slave uprising and the loss of their work force, the Holcombs and neighboring landowners keep news of the Emancipation Proclamation a secret, even from Sis Goose. When the Union Army arrives at the end of the Civil War to occupy the Holcomb plantation and announce the end of slavery, the betrayal of Sis Goose and her own secret (that she is carrying her "brother's" baby) spark tragedy. While Rinaldi raises interesting questions about the nature of bondage and freedom, her story glosses over the origins of Juneteenth and subsequent celebrations, focusing instead on the Holcombs' highly implausible situations. The cover is even misleading, not aptly depicting a light-skinned Sis Goose. Stick to the McKissacks' nonfiction Days of Jubilee (2003) and wait for a more accurate novel on the subject. (Historical fiction. 11-15)
From the Publisher
"Believable characters with human strengths and weaknesses, lively writing, and plenty of action and suspense make this book a real page-turner for lovers of historical fiction."School Library Journal
Read an Excerpt
I was in the pumpkin patch, counting the ones that were good enough for Old Pepper Apron, our cook, to make into bread. I recollect that Pa was happy that he’d gotten one or two cents more on the pound from the cotton Granville had shipped out of Bagdad. And that the fields were being sown with winter oats and rye.
I looked up and saw Sis Goose standing by the gate, a frown on her lovely face. It was all like some Dutch still life I was learning about from my tutor. Sis twisted her apron in her hands. She always wore a snow-white apron, like I did, even though we had no real household chores.
“Luli, there’s an old negro man in our barn,” she said.
For a moment I did not understand. The place was full of negro men: field hands, household help. But the look on her face told me something was amiss.
“Who is he?”
“Says he comes from Virginny. Says . . .” and her voice broke.
“Says the negroes are free. That Abraham Lincoln freed them in January of ’63.”
That rumor again. But with the war there was a different rumor every week. I swallowed. Something on Sis Goose’s face bespoke her distress.
“Go and get Gabe,” I told her. “He’ll know what to do.”
Gabe was in the house, helping Mama decide whether the one hundred bushels of corn she wanted to trade for three pounds of sugar was worth it.
I went to the horse barn, but I didn’t go in until Gabe and Sis Goose came back. “Where’d you come from, Uncle?” Gabe asked the man, who looked old enough to be somebody’s grandfather.
“Virginny. I comes from Virginny,” came the answer. “From Applegate I come. On the advice of Miz Heather.”
Applegate was my Virginia grandmother’s plantation.
Gabe scowled and ran his hands over the back of the man’s mule. It had usa branded on its back. “This is a fine-looking animal. Where’d you get it?”
“Miz Heather give it to me. And say to come here. She give me a message for y’all.”
“What message?” from Gabe.
“She say that no matter what, I shud tell y’all that Mister Linkum done freed the slaves nigh over a year ago now.”
“Did she now?” Gabe’s voice was tight, forced in its casualness. “Well, to my knowledge my grandmother never had a mule with usa branded on its back. This mule is government property,” Gabe told him.
“I came from Virginny,” the old man insisted. “Miz Heather, she tell me . . .”
“Yes, yes, I know, that Mr. Lincoln freed the slaves. I’ll tell you what, Uncle” Then Gabe stopped and looked at us. “Go on into the house,” he directed us. “Tell no one about this. I’ll handle it.”
We obeyed. I said nothing to Sis Goose about it. But she did to me. “Do you think he’s right?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I mean, we would have heard. If not us, then Gabe or Granville. I’m sure we would have heard.”
And so I lied to my best friend, my sister, who trusted me. Because I had heard of this before. But both Gabe and Granville had ordered me not to speak of it.
ont-family: 'Times New Roman'" The slaves free! I could not think on it all at once. It assaulted my spirit. It gave lie to everything I knew in my life.
All Pa’s people in the fields could put down their hoes and walk off if they wanted to. We’d never have another corn or cotton crop. The sweet potatoes and white potatoes and vegetables needing dirt banks to keep them safe from the winter would all be ruined. No more corn shuckings with banjo playing and cider. No one to repair the fences, see to the livestock. In the house, no one to keep Mama’s Chippendale furniture free of dust or polish the silver or make the beds. Who would do the laundry?
My mind gave way to hopelessness. And then I remembered what Granville had said the last time a man came to the barn like this. In June of ’63, it had been, right before Gettysburg.
“You breathe a word of this and you’ll start bloodshed in Texas,” he warned me.
Granville liked to make dramatic statements like that.
“I could be free.” Sis Goose stopped walking and looked at me. The news had come over her the same way.
“And what would you do?” I asked casually.
She lowered her eyes. Then looked at me almost flirtatiously. “I’d marry Gabe.”
No, I couldn’t take this, too. I drew in my breath. I’d noticed of late the way he served her at the table before he served himself. How he gave her the best cuts of meat. How he held out her chair. Was he just being a Southern gentleman?
He didn’t do all that for me. With me he was brusque, moody. Gentle but sealed off. Fool, I told myself. You should have seen it.
“Has he asked you?” I pushed.
“Yes. But I can’t, unless I’m free. I told him yes, at the end of the war. He wants to marry now. Because he says then Aunt Sophie can’t sell me. I’d be his wife. But I don’t want to be like my mama, the colored wench of a white man.”
She spoke fast. And I thought fast. I entered into a covenant with myself then, a promise to lie, even if it killed me. “Well, it’s just a rumor. I’m sorry, Sis Goose. My brothers and my pa would know if it were true.”
She accepted that. “You’d never lie to me,” she said. “Remember, we’re sisters.”
Copyright © 2007 by Ann Rinaldi
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.