The Night I Freed John Brown

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Overview

A haunting adventure, a brilliant new author.

Young Josh knows there is something about the tall Victorian House on the Harpers Ferry Hill, the one his father grew up in, that he can't quite put his finger on—ghosts he can't name, mysteries he can't solve. And his impossible father won't give him any clues. He's hiding something. And then there's the famous John Brown. The one who all the tourists come to hear about. The one whose statue looms over Josh's house. Why does he seem...

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The Night I Freed John Brown

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Overview

A haunting adventure, a brilliant new author.

Young Josh knows there is something about the tall Victorian House on the Harpers Ferry Hill, the one his father grew up in, that he can't quite put his finger on—ghosts he can't name, mysteries he can't solve. And his impossible father won't give him any clues. He's hiding something. And then there's the famous John Brown. The one who all the tourists come to hear about. The one whose statue looms over Josh's house. Why does he seem to haunt Josh and his whole family? When the fancy Richmonds come to town and move right next door, their presence forces Josh to find the answers and stand up to the secrets of the House, to his father—and to John Brown, too!

The historic village of Harpers Ferry comes alive in this young boy's brave search for answers and a place of his own in this brilliant first novel by John Michael Cummings.

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Editorial Reviews

Black Warrior Review
While the story centers on one son's quest to unearth the skeletons of his father's past, the reader becomes equally interested in the class divisions between neighbors. While Josh's family inhabits a rickety house, his best friend and neighbor, Luke Richmond, lives with his father in a five-story mansion-an exact twin to the five-story house left rotting in the woods. As we uncover the shared past of the twin houses, we begin to understand the secret to Josh's father's cruelty.
Though sparse and economical, Cummings' exposition propels the reader forward, though on occasion, the dialogue diminishes into the trivialities of "teen-talk," rather than a serious portrayal. There is a fine line between succeeding in the imitative qualities of a young adult voice and simply "writing down" to the reader. While Cummings falls into some trappings, overall, he tends to avoid oversimplifying the story.
The book builds for the final scene, in which Josh's father, much like John Brown, attempts to act on his convictions rather than side with man's law. If the story begs anything of its reader, it is to reassess the definition of a hero. Cummings seems to suggest that while the term holds new meaning from the days of John Brown, humankind's shortcomings remain the same. And the book's triumph, perhaps, is in its exploration of these shortcomings; in its ability to turn a despicable character, Josh's father, into a man we come to admire, or at the very least, understand.
Cummings does little to reinvent the wheel, though by staying within the bounds of the genre's conventions, he employs a trusted formula in a new style. The use of history as a narrative tool adds a scopethat is rarely attempted in the realm of young adult literature. By dusting the cobwebs from America's past, he gives his characters a future.
Huntingtonnews.net
There are elements of a ghost story in "The Night I Freed John Brown," with the opening of the novel taking place in the house where Bill Connors grew up. The five-story house was a Roman Catholic retreat house, but it's now vacant, except for occasional visits by transients -- and Josh and Luke.

When Bill learns that Josh and Luke have visited the house, he has one of his frequent tantrums, prompting the inquisitive Josh to probe the matter even more. Josh would make a great investigative reporter -- or writer -- since Cummings said much of the novel is based on his experiences growing up in Harpers Ferry in the 1970s.

The novel also is educational, in a non-invasive way, since it explains to history-deprived young people -- and their parents -- the connection between radical abolitionist John Brown and the slave revolt he planned in 1859 in the federal armory town of Harpers Ferry, VA, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

The "everything is illuminated" ending of "The Night I Freed John Brown" --don't worry, I'm not going to give it away -- provides a satisfactory resolution of Josh's concerns that he's the child Katie wanted, not Bill. Yes, Josh is the youngest of three children and his two brothers, Jerry and Robbie, are merciless teasers of Josh.

It's one of the best novels I've read in a long time and, as I noted, it's not just for young people. Philomel Books is a division of the Penguin Group, an outstanding major publisher. Calling all librarians out there: Buy this book! You might have to buy multiple copies.
—David M. Kinchen
Colleen teenreads.com
John Michael Cummings has had over 75 short stories published in various magazines, but this is his first novel --- and it's amazing. Cummings has a special talent for description, painting vividly clear pictures with his animated words ("Step after creaky step we went up, with Jerry in the lead, the darkness over us like a low ceiling we were always about to bump our heads into."). He brings to life a story where things are not always as they seem, with burning emotions begging to be freed and lonely souls desperate for healing.

THE NIGHT I FREED JOHN BROWN is a historically rich story with colorful characters and a family secret that will draw readers in and keep the pages turning.
—Chris Shanley-Dillman
NEBO
A must-read for young people as well as those who appreciate masterfully-constructed prose.
Matthew Skillen
In his first novel, The Night I Freed John Brown, John Michael Cummings shares with us the story of Josh, the youngest of three boys growing up in historical Harpers Ferry. With rich detail, Cummings draws on his personal experiences to transport the reader into the historic setting of Harpers Ferry— the tourist destination in West Virginia that celebrates the life of abolitionist John Brown. Unlike his two older brothers, Josh is an artist. He spends many sleepless nights drawing in his sketchbook, dreaming of the day he can leave his creatively oppressive family. Josh is all too often misunderstood by his father and coddled by his mother, and Josh desperately searches for clues that might explain the distance between him and his father. The Night I Freed John Brown will appeal to a wide range of young adult readers. It is a fast-paced story that addresses themes like familial relationships, identity development and brotherhood. Reviewer: Matthew Skillen
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10- Josh lives in Harpers Ferry, WV, in an aging limestone house with his two bullying older brothers, timid mother, and tyrannical father. Known for its connections to legendary historical figures such as John Brown and Frederick Douglass, the town attracts many visitors. Living in its fishbowl atmosphere brings shame and anger to Josh's father but evokes joy and creativity in their new neighbors, the Richmonds. Josh envies everything about Luke Richmond. He envies his new friend's normal brothers, kind father, and beautiful house, which is almost an exact duplicate of the abandoned house Josh's father grew up in on the outskirts of town. Explanations for his father's anger, the abandoned house, and other family secrets are revealed just as Josh's world comes crashing down around him. The pacing of the story is slow and the characters are one-dimensional and oftentimes stereotypical. The metaphors involving John Brown are often forced and the historical relationship between Brown's acts and Josh's experiences will be lost on many teens. The author attempts to address too many conflicts-family dysfunction, corruption in the Catholic Church, John Brown's legacy-and fails to bring about a convincing resolution to any of them. While there is some action and adventure, this title will appeal to a limited number of young adults.-Lynn Rashid, Marriots Ridge High School, Marriotsville, MD

Kirkus Reviews
Harpers Ferry, W.Va., a little town tucked in the shadows of the surrounding mountains, is a perfect place for an old-fashioned tale of family secrets and revelations. It was the site of John Brown's raid, and the ghost of John Brown lives on in the anger and rage of Josh Connors's father. The gentler spirits of Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass, who also had connections to the town, seem to inhabit the neighbor Josh is drawn to, an actor, historian and reader of Shakespeare who kindles in Josh a desire to see more of the world and lead a better life. But all is not what it seems, and the psychological drama set up in the conflict between the two men unfolds in a tense series of nighttime events through which Josh learns much about his father's past and from which springs a hope for transcendence. Characterizations are sharp, the setting eerily evoked and the story satisfying, though as hard to pin down as the town's ghostly forebears. A highly original meditation on how the past can haunt the present. (Fiction. 12+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399250545
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/29/2008
  • Pages: 276
  • Age range: 12 - 15 Years
  • Lexile: 860L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Michael Cummings lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 5, 2012

    Unable to put the book down

    "The Night I Freed John Brown" captures the essence of youthful bewilderment and its desire to be loved, accepted, understood, and valued. This is a very compelling story of a teen's experiences in tourist town, Harper's Ferry, WV. Mr. Cummings captures the imagination of Josh as he deals with his unfortunate circumstances of growing up with a father riddled with a bitterness that shows itself in their tattered home. It shares the torment of trying to understand and love a father with a secret he cannot share until events bring the family to an impossible situation that cannot be healed without its unveiling. The story brings moments of laughter, hope, shock, and sorrow as the troubled youth tries desperately to find self worth and acceptance and familial love. It rivets forward as Josh pushes for truth as hard as his father pushes to lock down his secret.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2010

    The Night I Freed John Brown, John Michael Cummings

    3.5 stars

    The Night I Freed John Brown is about a boy who grows up in modern day Harpers Ferry. He has a father who doesn't allow him to do anything. He has a rule about the house no one in no one out. His two brothers are trouble makers who disturb everyone they can. His mother is a very kind woman who just wants the old house they live in to be revised
    Josh is a teenager who feels trapped in his house and his only escape is the Richmond's house where he can hang out with Luke and his "normal" family. Josh is starting to realize that his family has a lot of secrets and his discovery of "cowmint" brings some of them to light and he doesn't expect what he finds out, and he will discover things about his father he never expected to be true.
    After reading this book I have got a few things to say about it. Its got a ton of twists and turns that you will never see coming but it also has a bit of mystery that brings back for more. I've got to say that I can't wait for the next book by John Michael Cummings
    When I first picked up this book I didn't think it would be as good as it was but after this book I have really gotten an interest in this authors work. The book would lead you to believe one thing then turn it around and reveal another it just keeps you guessing and I like that about this book
    All in all this entire book was very exciting and I enjoyed every minute of reading it. Hopefully more authors can publish books of this quality.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2010

    The Night I Freed John Brown by John Michael Cummings. Austin's book review

    The book The Night I Freed John Brown kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time reading it. John Michael Cummings writing style was flawless. It is so descriptive that I feel that I am in the book. The theme of the book is family will always stick behind you, and there is nothing better than a friend. I felt that it was a breath taking book.
    The setting takes place in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Josh and his new neighbor Luke become best friends. Luke is a lot more fortunate than Josh. He has a wonderful dad, beautiful house, and amazing brothers. Josh on the other hand has a rundown house, his dad is physically and emotionally abusive, and his brothers are mean to him. John Michael Cummings writing style is both unique and interesting. He has an amazing vocabulary and knows how to put you into the book. For example, "We had just entered a jungle like world. Vines curled down like snakes, and dark trees stood around like villains and thieves. Blanketing the ground were purple wildflowers and gooey webs of silver leaves. Dead ahead were the ghostly white ruins of a chapel, its jagged walls biting up through the black earth like bad teeth.
    The book has many exciting moments which include disobeying direct orders from a father, fighting, and a lot of orneriness. "Soon blue lights whipped through the dark trees on the hill, and a ranger Jeep roared into the alley, its headlights flooding down the walls of the Harper House, catching our sweaty faces". In this book Josh wants to find out why his father acts the way he does toward the family, When all of the sudden he finds something that will give him the edge in finding out. Compared to other fiction books this one will really keep you interested. It makes you want to stay up and read all night.
    This is one of the most descriptive and exciting books I have read in a very long time. In the book includes fighting and mysteriousness. It also teaches a lesson on friendship and family.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    Local boy grows up, leaves home, writes novel about Harpers Ferry

    By ERICA SYVERSON / Pulse Correspondent

    Coming from a writer, the description of what goes on inside a writer's head can get pretty complicated.

    If you were to remove the skullcap of an author like Harpers Ferry, W.Va.-born John Cummings, you might see rolling out a mash of John Updike, 15 years worth of writing, and some Springsteen lyrics.

    Cummings' first published novel, "The Night I Freed John Brown," (see review at left) was released at the end of May, but the Pulse team had the opportunity to grab a word with the author prior to the release date just to see what kinds of things he rolls around upstairs.

    Cummings says a lot of his work is autobiographical. This is especially true of "The Night I Freed John Brown." He said he drew a lot of inspiration from "precious memories of growing up around Harper's Ferry," where the book takes place.

    Every writer faces obstacles like pacing a story and creating a strong plot, but imagine not even knowing you always wanted to be a writer. Cummings set out for a college art degree and wound up graduating without an interest in art at all. A long-lost love of words drove him to get a job as a reporter. But he struggled with a desire to put his own perceptions in his writing, thus breaking a cardinal rule of journalism.

    Cummings has published some 75 short stories in the past 15 years. He calls them fiction, though he says they are true stories that have been with him his whole life. He calls them "invented truths," meaning he changed names and other aspects to protect the real people involved in these events.

    Sometimes memories are tricky things to work with in writing. What is private? What should stay a memory, not put into writing? Cummings says he never had fear or self-consciousness about using his childhood as the foundation for his writing. There is an "innate trust in putting words on paper," he says, and he has no trouble expressing himself.

    Maybe tackling the description of what goes on inside a writer's head isn't so difficult after all.

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  • Posted June 11, 2009

    Courageous, beautiful, and true

    What a remarkable book.

    I haven't read any of the author's noted short fiction, so I can't comment on how this compares to it. But what I can say is that this is a work of the highest quality.

    The book has rare emotional insight, and the language is often startingly lovely. I was also impressed by the author's nuanced portrayal of adults in the book: That's all too rare in the young adult field these days.

    In a time when so much of young adult literature features ham-handed plots without any depth, THE NIGHT I FREED JOHN BROWN proves that you can be stirring, intelligent, frightening and thrilling all at once. Coming from a guy who reads 100+ YA books a year, trust me: This is one not to be missed.

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  • Posted October 15, 2008

    Simply Delightful

    A charming book for young readers and adults alike. Fascinating recollection of life in tourist-driven Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Young Josh is sensitive, artistic, curious and hopeful... yet burdened with the shame of his family's history, social standing and often embarrassing behavior. He's ultimately an optimist who believes in making things right¿though there are several instances where his good intentions don't turn out the way he intends. Kudos to John Michael Cummings for a delightful first novel!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2008

    Terrific read!

    JM Cummings does a masterful job. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2008

    A Subtle, Wonderful Book!

    'The Night I Freed John Brown' is a thought-provoking, insightful story in the guise of a young-adults' book. The author's prose is straightforward, but it is marvelously crafted and filled with lovely rhythms and highly visual metaphors. Similarly, underneath the novel's brisk storytelling and deceptively simple surface the author strings together a complex group of elements--dark psychological undertones, family conflict, pangs of envy, the need to conquer (or at least confront) one's fears, great sensitivity to the unique history of the location, and deep feeling for both adoloscent vitality and teenaged uncertainty. Highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2008

    Captivating and Mystifying

    This read introduces modern times to history for the young and old. The brilliant character development really makes you feel like you're part of the story. A great novel...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2008

    I loved this book

    This was a great summer read and I've been recommending it to all of my friends. Few have Cummings' talent for detail and sophistication with words.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2008

    a page turner

    I couldn't put this book down. This is a wonderful first book by John Michael Cummings, a book for adults as well as young readers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2008

    A great read

    Outstanding!!! I couldn't put it down!!! I read it from cover to cover in one night. I highly recommend this book to all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2008

    Exciting new novel for young readers

    'The Night I Freed John Brown' is a wonderfully written book by John Cummings. The storyline just seems to flow along just like the river that flows by Harpers Ferry. The storyline grabs your atention and you want to hurry up to finish it to see how the story ends. This is an excellent fast read for our young readers. I hope Mr. Cummings will do a sequel to his debut novel!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2008

    A Beautifully Written First Novel

    John Cummings' descriptions place one in the shoes of the young narrator in this novel of growing up and finding one's place in a town of historic note. The story is full of the impact of townsfolk on a young man's life and is vividly reminiscent of all of the foibles of a journey into adolescence. Cummings is an author from whom we can learn much in developing our own personal histories. I eagerly await his next novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2008

    Praise for The Night I Freed John Brown

    'Exquisite and brilliant. Luminous as the silver screen. A bewitching, exciting, heartfelt tale, the kind you want to hunker down on a rainy day in a comfy chair and read straight through until dark. Like some artists paint on canvas, others sculpt with clay, John Michael Cummings paints and sculpts the story, like a renaissance man with the master use of words.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2008

    A terrific YA book

    The Night I Freed John Brown is a wonderful story, beautifully told. Containing elements appealing to young adults, the book's mystery and underlying family conflict speak universally to adults, too. Well written and carefully crafted, it is a successful first novel. I'm looking forward to more from this obviously sensitive author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2008

    Very Impressed

    This book honestly kept me turning the pages and it gave me a good feeling inside. It's a great book and I highly recommend it for readers both young and old.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2008

    History, Parent/Child, Faith in One Book

    Cunningham understands the preadolescent child, parents who grapple with raising their children, and the Catholic church. I loved his treatment of the 'outsider' child in the family and the sensitivity he brings to this beautifully written story. The bonus is the modern-day setting in Harpers Ferry, WV and the history of John Brown and the relationship he had with his own sons.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2008

    A reviewer

    Josh has many unanswered questions in his life: questions about mysterious houses and strange priests and delinquent relatives. But however much he yearns for answers, it doesn't seem likely that he'll get any from his nasty father. Finding no pleasure at his own home, Josh seeks comfort at his next door neighbors', the Richmonds, house. The questions, however, only build when Josh discovers roped-off rooms and completely empty closets. Josh knows that the answers to his questions are secrets, and carefully guarded ones, at that. But even so, he is determined to discover what it is that his father is hiding- what it is that is 'following' him. What happened to the stolen items in his grandmother's house? Who is this Father Ron character that his dad seems to dislike so much? Speaking of his dad, why is he always so angry? Why can't he be warm and friendly like Mr. Richmond? Why do the Richmond kids always get everything, while Josh and his older brothers, Jerry and Robbie, are stuck with unneighborly parents and a run-down house? And then- get ready for the night that will change everything, the night that will answer all of Josh's question, the night he frees John Brown. Readers will be intrigued by and thoroughly enjoy this page-turner-- John Michael Cummings's debut novel, 'The Night I Freed John Brown', a remarkable coming-of-age story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2008

    A reviewer

    Josh's life is full of secrets. First, there's the huge Victorian mansion, full of mysterious happenings and lies, that stands over the town. There's something strange and haunting about it, something scary and odd... Then there's his difficult father, secluding his family from the rest of the world, hiding them from the the tourists that mob their town. And the tourists are a whole other matter themselves-they come to admire the statue of John Brown 'the man that Josh's father despises for an odd reason' that makes Josh's small West-Virginian village so famous but seems to drive his dad so crazy. Can Josh figure out the secrets of Harpers Ferry, his dad's web of lies, and the secret of John Brown before it's too late? This enthralling and intriguing mystery by John Michael Cummings is a beautiful story that readers ages 11 and up will adore. This book came out in May, so go buy it right now or else you'll be missing out! The cover seems more boy-oriented, but I think that other girls like myself would enjoy The Night I Freed John Brown, too.

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