North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad

North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad

4.6 14
by Katherine Ayres

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It's 1851 and Lucy Spencer's family is keeping a secret. Their Ohio home is a station on the Underground Railroad, the network of people and places that helps fugitive slaves escape to freedom in Canada. Lucy believes in what she and her family do to help the fugitives, even if it means putting herself in danger.

So Lucy doesn't hesitate when she is asked to


It's 1851 and Lucy Spencer's family is keeping a secret. Their Ohio home is a station on the Underground Railroad, the network of people and places that helps fugitive slaves escape to freedom in Canada. Lucy believes in what she and her family do to help the fugitives, even if it means putting herself in danger.

So Lucy doesn't hesitate when she is asked to stay with the Widow Aurelia Mercer and help her with a family of runaway slaves hiding in her attic. And she learns so much from her experience—about growing up, love, and standing on her own. But what will Lucy do when she is asked to make the ultimate sacrifice and leave all she loves behind?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Told through journal entries and letters, this historical novel underscores the cruel consequences of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and the dangerous choices forced on Americans both black and white in the tense years leading to the Civil War. At 16, Lucinda Spenser has already helped slaves escape, as her family's Ohio farm forms part of the Underground Railroad route to Canada. On the eve of a party at the home of Lucinda's beau, Jonathan Clark, the Quaker Jeremiah Strong asks Lucinda to play a key role in a daring plot to protect 10 escapees, mostly children but also one pregnant woman. The plan involves a prolonged stay at the home of the unconventional Widow (Aurelia) Mercer, who shares her feminist notions with Lucinda. While Lucinda spends some time debating which of her two suitors, Jonathan or Jeremiah, she prefers, the friendships she forges with Miss Aurelia and the fugitive slaves transform the plot from predictable romance to a tale of bravery and sacrifice: Lucinda's passions shift from flirtation to an even deeper commitment to free slaves. Ayres's (Family Tree) plotting is not always plausible (for example, the ruse by which Lucinda goes to stay at Miss Aurelia's--a faked case of measles--works improbably long at keeping outsiders at bay). While there is more action here than in the similarly themed Bright Freedom's Song (reviewed below), it also seems more of a '90s novel, in which the heroine's dramatic self-actualization is at least as important as the period setting. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)
VOYA - Hillary Theyer
Both of these new novels would make good choices for middle school readers just reaching for longer, more serious fiction about slavery and the Underground Railroad. They fit in nicely with works by Patricia Beatty, Joyce Hansen, and Patricia McKissack, and would make good curriculum reading in school units on the subject. The characters are teenagers, and the issues both young women face are serious. Neither book has a clean, triumphant ending with complete assurance that all will turn out right-instead, the reader is left to ponder the fate of the characters and hope for their future. In North by Night, sixteen-year-old Lucy helps her family hide runaway slaves on their farm in Ohio. The biggest conflict in her life is that she is loved by two men, one an upstanding local citizen who has no idea of her activities, and the other a Quaker who also helps slaves. One winter, Lucy is called upon to help a widow hide and care for nine slaves, including a pregnant woman. When she cannot travel on, the woman stays behind and becomes Lucy's friend as she waits to have her baby. Three days after the baby is born, the woman dies, and Lucy is left with the task of getting the baby to relatives in Canada. In doing so Lucy risks her reputation, her life, and the people she loves. Bright Freedom's Song is the story of young Bright Cameron, whose family lives in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. When Bright stumbles upon her family's secret cellar for hiding slaves, she learns of her father's past as an abused indentured servant. She also meets her father's friend Marcus, a former slave who helps guide others to freedom. As Bright sorts out her feelings about living in the South and having friends who own slaves, she is called upon to take her father's place driving a wagon to the next station when her father is ill. Both books are enjoyable reading for historical fiction fans. North by Night is for older readers due to its discussions of slaves bearing children by their masters, the role of a single woman in society, and the conflicts over slavery between religions. Both titles are highly recommended purchases for school libraries with Underground Railroad units of study.
Note: This review was written and published to address two titles-North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad, and Bright Freedom's Song: A Story of the Underground Railroad. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-In January, 1851, Lucinda Spencer, age 16, writes her second entry of the new year from the free state of Ohio. In answer to God's call and as a matter of personal conscience, her father has made the family farm a station on the Underground Railroad. Lucinda has grown up with this charge but also believes it to be her own. She leaves her home to help a neighbor protect nine fugitives (mostly children) on the woman's farm and, in the end, shepherds a newborn to freedom in Canada after the mother dies, thus never seeing her own family again. Through Lucinda's diary, spanning approximately three months, Ayres explains and condemns the Fugitive Slave Act, argues politics, touches on Southern laws preventing the teaching of reading to slaves, and builds a plot that culminates in freedom for the runaways and the coming of age of a young woman. There are steady references to budding romance (Lucinda has two wooers) and to God's plan and God's peoples. The author's obvious research is demonstrated and so, at times, is her descriptive voice. She handles most of the story gracefully; but there is a lot going on-bits of antislavery tracts, Quaker philosophy, rights of women/peoples. It will take a careful and skillful reader to get it all. There has been a growing body of literature that addresses slavery for this audience. Margaret Goff Clark's Freedom Crossing (Scholastic, 1991) is still one of the best for its suspense, ideals, and characterizations. Also recommend Gary Paulsen's Nightjohn (Delacorte, 1993) and, of course, Paula Fox's classic The Slave Dancer (Bradbury, 1973).-Harriett Fargnoli, Great Neck Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
An Ohio teenager abandons family and home to bring an escaped slave's baby to freedom in this handwringer—-told in letters and diary entries—-from Ayres (Family Tree).

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.86(w) x 8.57(h) x 0.73(d)
750L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Katherine Ayres is the author of Family Tree, which has been named to several state award lists, and North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad. She is a founding member of the Playwright’s Lab at the Pittsburgh Public Theater. She teaches writing at Chatham College, where she also coordinates the Master of Arts program in children’s and adolescent writing.

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North by Night: A Story of the Underground Railroad 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book that makes your heart miss a beat is hard to find, not anymore it isnt! North by night is so pure and is full of history and romance. When you read it you will feel like you are the main charecter Lucy. Lucy a girl becoming a woman finds her self in love with a man and being courted by another she has a advanture that only people dream of and has courage that some of us lack. this is one of my favorite books that i have enjoyed many times reading and hope that you will enjoy it the way i did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got this book from a friend and I couldn't put it down it was awesom! I read it twice with in the first week I had it! It was filled with danger, excitment and even a little bit of romance. I had to give her the book back but I am going to bye my own so I can read it again and again!