The Price of a Child

The Price of a Child

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by Lorene Cary

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With Price of a Child—the story of Ginnie Pryor (cook, mistress and servant to a Virginia planter) and her struggle with slavery in 1855—Cary continues has created a work that elevates the reputation she created with Black Ice, her memoir which won her comparisons to Maya Angelou and Richard Wright. In a novel that examines the price of


With Price of a Child—the story of Ginnie Pryor (cook, mistress and servant to a Virginia planter) and her struggle with slavery in 1855—Cary continues has created a work that elevates the reputation she created with Black Ice, her memoir which won her comparisons to Maya Angelou and Richard Wright. In a novel that examines the price of freedom and the value of a child's life, Price of a Child is "a stunning achievement...a deeply engrossing story.... Cary's impeccable research and seamless narrative carry us along" (Philadelphia Inquirer).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set during the antebellum period, Carey's first novel tells of a woman who escapes from slavery only to be haunted by the memory of the baby she had to leave behind. (June)
Library Journal
In 1855, Ginnie and two of her children set out with their slave master for Nicaragua, where he has been appointed U.S. ambassador. Before boarding the ferry in New York, Ginnie connects with operatives in the Underground Railroad who cleverly spirit her to Phildelphia, where she becomes freedwoman Mercer Gray. While eluding slave catchers and struggling to earn a living, she grieves for her youngest child, left behind on the plantation. Through the kindness of friends, she becomes a lecturer in the cause for abolition and travels throughout New England, speaking in meeting halls and churches, reliving her life as a slave, and redefining her freedom. But freedom has a price too; people close to her bicker, cheat, and lie and the only man she loves is trapped in an unfortunate marriage. Cary (Black Ice, LJ 3/1/91) has drawn a vivid portrait of survival and the struggle for self-worth against a backdrop of one of the bleakest periods in American history. Recommended.-Susan Clifford, Hughes Aircraft Co. Lib., Los Angeles
School Library Journal
YA-A wonderful, moving, and truthful account of a slave woman's walk away from her master and toward liberty. Readers share her journey as she cherishes her freedom while being completely aware of its price to her, to her children, and to a free black family who has helped her. It is a very human story of people who have goals and dreams for themselves and are willing to sacrifice for others, and readers should be enriched by sharing this experience. There are no perfect people here; they all suffer and struggle with human weaknesses. American history is brought to immediate life with the details of daily existence in pre-Civil War Philadelphia. Values of freedom, family, and faith are emphasized. Language and sexual descriptions are well within the context of the novel and give it a texture that emphasizes the human condition.-Margaret C. Hecklinger, Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Lillian Lewis
For those of us not having lived the life of a slave, the question of abandoning one's child for freedom is an awesome contemplation. Yet, in this novel, once Ginnie was presented with that option she decided to grasp freedom. The Quick family that Ginnie settles with envelop her with their entangled family politics and expose her to the determination of freed northern blacks, particularly Philadelphia residents, to risk their own liberty for the freedom of others. Ginnie's choice to begin a new life as a free woman dictates that she re-create herself as Mercer Gray, the abolitionist speaker. It is through her persona as Mercer that Ginnie struggles to maintain her freedom while speaking on behalf of those who are not. Through her talks she grows to understand that freedom has hidden dangers, no less than slavery. This delicate portrayal of a woman boldly opting to explore the realities of liberty is a revealing depiction of the struggles of free blacks during the decades of slavery. Mercer learns to live compassionately as a cultured free woman in spite of the historical and personal obstacles to her happiness.
From the Publisher
"The Price of a Child is a book seared by a sense of mission ... But there is nothing preachy about [Cary's] narrative style. She is a powerful storyteller, frankly sensual, mortally funny, gifted with an ear for the pounce and ragged inconsequentiality of real speech and an eye for the shifts and subterfuges by which ordinary people get by. With The Price of a Child, Lorene Cary has produced a generous, sardonic, full-blooded work of fiction."

— Fernanda Eberstadt, The New York Times Book Review

"Cary's exacting sensual description does more than lend credibility to her portrait of the age. It imparts to her writing an undercurrent of searching perception, and a fastidious element of psychological complexity." — David Barber, Boston Globe

"A profoundly moving, evocative work that puts a fully realized human face on the issue of slavery and its consequences. Cary's passionate, intelligent prose and her assured command of historical events as they sweep across individual lives recall Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. The Price of a Child marks the emergence of a powerful voice in American fiction."

— Paula L. Woods, Philadelphia Inquirer

Product Details

Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
5.86(w) x 8.67(h) x 1.23(d)

Meet the Author

Lorene Cary’s new novel Pride (Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday, 1998; Anchor 1999) is told in the voices of four friends–“subtle, idiosyncratic characters...whose personalities seem utterly, and affectingly, distinctive,” according to The New York Times Book Review. It also praises the book’s ability to shift “between the staccato directness of black slang and the more formal cadences of standard English....”

The Price of A Child has been selected as the first city-wide One Book, One Philadelphia choice. The novel traces one woman’s escape from slavery and brings alive Philadelphia’s Underground Railroad history. A New York Times reviewer called the writer “a powerful storyteller, frankly sensual, mortally funny, gifted with an ear for the pounce [of] real speech,” and praised the novel as “a generous, sardonic, full-blooded work of fiction.” (Knopf, 1995; Vintage 1996)

Cary’s first book, published by Knopf in 1991, was Black Ice, a memoir of her years first as a black female student, and then teacher, at St. Paul’s, an exclusive New England boarding school. Arnold Rampersad has dubbed it “...probably the most beautifully written and moving African-American autobiographical narrative since Maya Angelou’s celebrated I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” Black Ice was chosen as a Notable Book for 1992 by the American Library Association.

Lorene Cary was graduated from St. Paul’s School in 1974 and received B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978. She won a Thouron Fellowship for British-U.S. student exchange and studied at Sussex University. She has received Doctorates in Humane Letters from Colby College in Maine, Keene State College in New Hampshire, and Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.

In 1998 Lorene Cary founded Art Sanctuary, a non-profit lecture and performance series that brings black thinkers and artists to speak and perform at the Church of the Advocate, a National Historic Landmark Building in North Philadelphia.

Currently a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was a 1998 recipient of the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, Cary has lectured throughout the U.S. She began writing as an apprentice at Time in 1980, then worked as an Associate Editor at TV Guide, freelanced for such publications as Essence, American Visions, Mirabella, and The Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine, and served as Contributing Editor for Newsweek in 1993.

In 2002, Cary received the Women’s Way Agent of Change Award; in 2001 the Advocate Community Development Corporation’s Award for Urban Excellence; in 2000, a Philadelphia Historical Society Founder’s Medal for History in Culture; in 1999, the American Red Cross Spectrum Rising Star Award for community service; and in 1995, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts Fellowship. She serves on the usage Panel for The American Heritage Dictionary and the Union Benevolent Association board. Cary is a member of PEN and the Author’s Guild. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, the Rev. Robert C. Smith, and daughters Laura and Zoë.

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Price of a Child 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A powerful novel that deals with the struggle of an individual as she grapples with the truth and lies about being free in pre-civil war times in Philadelphia. The personal cost of freedom as well as the perimeters of freedom are etched in reality in this compelling work. Unforgettable.