Trouble Don't Last

Trouble Don't Last

4.3 33
by Shelley Pearsall

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Samuel, an eleven-year-old Kentucky slave, and Harrison, the elderly slave who helped raise him, attempt to escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad. See more details below

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Samuel, an eleven-year-old Kentucky slave, and Harrison, the elderly slave who helped raise him, attempt to escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
An 11-year-old boy and the elderly captive who helped raise him seek escape via the Underground Railroad. In a starred review, PW wrote, "This memorable portrayal of their haphazard, serendipitous and dangerous escape to freedom proves gripping from beginning to end." Ages 8-12. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
First time novelist Shelley Pearsall has woven a remarkable tale about a pair of runaway slaves and their flight to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Slavery is the only reality that eleven-year-old Samuel has ever known. His mother was sold away from his Kentucky homestead when Samuel was just a toddler. Since then, it has just been Samuel and his elderly guardians, Harrison and Lily. When Harrison steals him away in the middle of the night, Samuel is sure that trouble will come from it. Through spine tingling close calls and hair-raising adventures, old Harrison and Samuel creep closer to elusive Freedom. Along the way, they are aided by colorful characters, most of them based on real life figures. Thoroughly researched, packed with action, suspense, humor and great plot twists, this is one you'll remember for a long time. 2002, Knopf, $14.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Strong characters and an inventive, suspenseful plot distinguish Pearsall's first novel, a story of the Underground Railroad in 1859. Samuel, the 11-year-old slave who narrates the story, is awakened by 70-year-old Harrison, who has decided to flee their tyrannical Kentucky master. The questions that immediately flood the boy's mind provide the tension that propels the novel: What has precipitated the old man's sudden desire for freedom? Why would he risk taking Samuel along? Harrison is mindful of the dangers and wary of trusting even the strangers who might offer help. Samuel, an impulsive boy who seems prone to trouble, is grudgingly accustomed to his life of servitude and reluctant to leave it. As days of hiding and nights of stealthy movement take them farther away from their former lives, Harrison and Samuel forge a bond that strengthens their resolve. Faith, luck, and perseverance see the man and boy safely into Canada, where a new journey-one of self-discovery and self-healing-begins. Pearsall's extensive research is deftly woven into each scene, providing insight into plantation life, 19th-century social mores, religious and cultural norms, and the political turmoil in the years preceding the Civil War. Samuel's narrative preserves the dialect, the innocence, the hope, and even the superstitions of slaves like Harrison and himself, whose path to freedom is filled with kindness and compassion as well as humiliation and scorn. This is a compelling story that will expand young readers' understanding of the Underground Railroad and the individual acts of courage it embraced.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
At fellow slave Harrison's insistence, young Samuel is catapulted into an escape attempt from a Kentucky plantation that has been his whole world. Troublesome Sam has been in the care of elderly Lilly and Harrison since the sale of his mother long ago. Life has been so circumscribed by his condition of slavery that it is hard for him to understand the stakes or even want to succeed. Samuel's naivete is realistic but almost irritatingly persistent as danger mounts. Old man Harrison, whose creative ethics and gritty determination guide them on their way, is increasingly revealed as a complex man, and Samuel gradually gains an understanding of himself and the world around him. The vile nature of slavery is not underplayed as the notion of owning a person clearly creates both horrendous hubris and evil in the owner as well as tremendous pain and suffering of the owned. One of the best underground railroad narratives in recent years, Pearsall's portrayal of both helping and helped are more rounded and complex than the more simplistic view often espoused. Greed, hypocrisy, and sanctimonious paternalism are clearly perceived by the fugitives dependent on these strangers who hold lives in their hands. This succeeds as a suspenseful historical adventure with survival at stake and makes clear that to succeed Harrison and Samuel, as well as others, must never give up even while combating manhunters, bloodhounds, mental illness, disease, hunger, cold, and their own despair. (Fiction. 11-14)
From the Publisher
* “This memorable portrayal . . . proves gripping from beginning to end.”–Starred, Publishers Weekly

* “A thrilling escape story, right until the last chapter.”–Starred, Booklist

“Strong characters and an innovative, suspenseful plot distinguish Pearsall’s first novel . . . A compelling story.”–School Library Journal

“One of the best underground railroad narratives in recent years . . . This succeeds as a suspenseful historical adventure.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Pearsall’s heartbreaking, yet hopeful story provides a fine supplement to lessons on slavery.”–Teacher Magazine


The 2003 Scott O’ Dell Award for Historical Fiction

A Booklist Top 10 First Novel

A Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.77(w) x 8.53(h) x 0.84(d)
Age Range:
9 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt


Truth is, trouble follows me like a shadow.

To begin with, I was born a slave when other folks is born white. My momma was a slave and her momma a slave before that, so you can see we are nothing but a family of trouble. Master sold Momma before I was even old enough to remember her, and two old slaves named Harrison and Lilly had to raise me up like I was one of their own, even though I wasn't. Then, when I was in my eleventh year, the old slave Harrison decided to jump into trouble himself, and he tried to run away.

Problem was, I had to go with him.

The Broken Plate

It all started on a just-so day in the month of September 1859, when I broke my master's plate while clearing the supper table. I tried to tell Lilly that if Master Hackler hadn't taken a piece of bread and sopped pork fat all over his old plate, I wouldn't have dropped it.

But Lilly kept her lips pressed tight together, saying nothing as she scraped the vegetable scraps into the hog pails.

"And Young Mas Seth was sticking his foot this-away and that-away, tryin to trip me up," I added.

Lilly didn't even look at me, just kept scraping and scraping with her big, brown hands.

"Maybe it was a spirit—could be Old Mas Hackler's dead spirit—that got ahold of me right then and made that plate fly right outta my hands."

Lilly looked up and snorted, "Spirits. If Old Mas Hackler wanted to haunt this house, he'd go an' turn a whole table on its end, not bother with one little china plate in your hands." She pointed her scraping knife at me. "You gotta be more careful, Samuel, or they gonna sell you off sure asanything, and I can't do nothin to help you then. You understand me, child?"

"Yes'm," I answered, looking down at my feet. Every time Lilly said something like this to me, which was more often than not, it always brought up the same picture in my head. A picture of my momma. She had been sold when I was hardly even standing on my own two legs. Right after the Old Master Hackler had died. Lilly said that selling off my momma paid for his fancy carved headstone and oak burying box, but I'm not sure all that is true.

In my mind, I could see my momma being taken away in the back of Master's wagon, just the way Lilly told me. Her name was Hannah, and she was a tall, straight-backed woman with gingerbread skin like mine. Lilly said that she was wearing a blue-striped headwrap tied around her hair, and she was leaning over with her head down in her hands when they rode off. The only thing Lilly knew was that they took her to the courthouse in Washington, Kentucky, to sell her.

After my momma had gone, it had fallen on Lilly's shoulders to raise me as if I was her own boy, even though she wasn't any relation of mine and she'd already had two sons and four daughters, all sold off or dead. But she said I had more trouble in me than all six of her children rolled up together. "I gotta be on your heels day and night," she was always telling me. "And even that don't keep the bad things from happening."

When she was finished with the hog pails, Lilly came over to me. "How's that chin doin?" She lifted the cold rag I'd been holding and looked underneath. "Miz Catherine got good aim, I give her that."

After I had broken the china plate, Master Hackler's loud, redheaded wife, Miz Catherine, had flung her table fork at me. "You aren't worth the price of a broken plate, you know that?" she hollered, and sent one of the silver forks flying. Good thing I had sense enough not to duck my head down, so it hit right where she was aiming, square on my chin. Even though it stung all the way up to my ear, I didn't make a face. I was half-proud of myself for that.

"You pick up every little piece," Miz Catherine had snapped, pointing at the floor. "Every single piece with those worthless, black fingers of yours, and I'll decide what to do about your carelessness."

After that, Lilly had come barreling in to save me. She had helped me sweep up the white shards that had flown all over, and she told Miz Catherine that she would pay for the plate. Master usually gave Lilly a dollar to keep every Christmas. "What you think that plate cost?" Lilly asked Miz Catherine as she swept.

"How much do you have?" Miz Catherine sniffed.

"Maybe $4 saved up."

"Then I imagine it will cost you $4."

So the redheaded devil Miz Catherine had taken most of Lilly's savings just for my broken plate—although, truth was, Lilly really had $6 tucked away. And she had given me a banged-up chin. But, as Lilly always said, it could have been worse.

Then we heard Master Hackler's heavy footsteps coming down the hall. He walks hard on his heels, so you can always tell him from the others.

"You be quiet as a country graveyard," Lilly warned. "And gimme that cloth." Quick as anything, she snatched the cloth from my chin and began wiping a plate with it.

"Still cleaning up from supper?" Master Hackler said, peering around the doorway. "Samuel's made you mighty slow this evening, Lilly."

"Yes, he sho' has." Lilly kept her head down and wiped the plates in fast circles. "But I always git everything done, you know. Don't sleep a wink till everything gits done."

From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.

Copyright 2002 by Shelley Pearsall

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