Then a tornado hits and drives Abby's family apart. A deranged neighbor targets her for a campaign of vengeful terror. And a physical assault all but breaks her will.
About the Author
Joyce Carol Thomas is the award-winning author of more than fifty books for adults, teens and children. She is the author of Marked by Fire, National Book Award Winner; Bright Shadow, a Coretta Scott King Honor book; Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, a Coretta Scott King Honor book; and I Have Heard of a Land, winner of the 1999 IRA Teacher's Choice Award. Her HBFC titles include Linda Brown, You Are Not Alone: Brown v. Board of Education; Hush Songs: African-American Lullabies; and Joy. Joyce lives in Berkeley, California.
Read an Excerpt
September 5, 1951
On a hillrise to the left of the cottonfield, a hound dog howled woefully under a blackjack tree, his scruffy tail stuck out stiffly behind him. A string of chee-chee birds perched on the tree branches, the unborn song dying in their throats.
Patience looked up and saw the great whirling wind scoop down at the edge of the cottonfield and yank up an entire row of ripe bolls and sturdy stalks.
Instinctively, her hands reached down and covered her watermelon belly. She felt the urge to run, but she knew she was too heavy. She was trapped here in the cotton patch, crouched on her knees, along with all the other workers. Her eyes followed the movement of the tornado as it ominously skipped and twirled along the boundaries of the field. She watched the tornado snap up the dog and listened, horrified, when his miserable howling ceased. She began to lift herself up on her knees.
"Daughter, don't move," Mother Barker in the next row whispered.
Patience sank back down on her knees and felt the sickness rising in her. There, was no escaping it: the end was near.
In the row on the other side of Patience, Bessie Lightsey nervously sucked her fat thumb and tugged insistently at her mother's skirt. Mesmerized, she could not turn her eyes away from the tornado.
The dark spiral turned and headed toward them.
Patience gasped and clasped her hands together tightly. Mother Barker began to 'pray. In a muted voice, as though afraid the tornado might hear her, she prayed for deliverance.
"Lord, we know you know your business. We know we are but a speck of dust in the comer of your eye. But Heavenly Father,grant me permission to speak to you this morning, Sir. Now, Lord, you made the mountains. You made the forest and the streams." She extended her hands toward Patience. "Merciful Father, you even made the child your faithful handmaiden Patience is carrying. And Lord, you made the tornado, too. You made everything, including these your humble servants. We understand you already predicted our comings and our goings. The hour and minute of our birth. And Lord, if you wag your head on us you know the very second of our death. Father, if you wag your head on this unborn child, how can we watch it experience your wonderful light? Lord, we walk the earth at your command. Sir, if you willed it, in the twinkling of an eye we could be whipped away like a leaf before a treacherous storm. Lord, we're asking you to hold the tornado and we're asking you to have mercy enough not to wag your head on us this morning.
The tornado picked up speed as it approached them, then turned and uprooted another row of cotton. The branches, leaves, and soft, white, downy fibers danced in its vicious and capricious clutch. Then having satisfied its hunger, the tornado suddenly sailed away through the sky.
For a moment they stood completely frozen, silently holding their breath. When they were sure the twister had finally gone, Patience and the other women laughed nervously. The children whimpered. Mother Barker's husband, the foreman and the only man in the field, adjusted his straw hat on his head.
Mother Barker stood up and smiled. "Wasn't that an amazing sight!" She surveyed the field. The mighty wind had swept a clean circle around them, leaving them untouched.
For a moment a line of worry wrinkled her forehead. She went over to Patience and placed her hands gently on the pregnant woman's stomach. "The baby's all right," Mother Barker announced with a sigh of relief.
"Look at my hands shake," said Patience.
"You might be upset naturally, but the baby's fine. This baby, I can tell, is going to be an Oklahoma wonder.
"Oklahoma!" Mother Barker hollered joyfully, her paisley headrag hanging halfway off her head. "You and your tornados and your rising rivers! We'll still be loving you, Oklahoma, till the rivers run out of water and the wind runs out of breath!
Patience smiled at Mother Barker's exuberance. The older woman's presence was comforting. Assured that her baby was all right, she stopped her trembling and laughed along with Mother Barker.
"All right," the foreman proclaimed, measuring the remaining rows of cotton with his eyes. "Let's get back to work. We've got cotton to pick!"
Patience felt awkward getting up and down from the row of cotton. Her heaviness slowed her while the tight strap of crocus sack cut into the long, muslin dress she had fashioned out of a flour bag. Now and then she shook her arm to relieve the dead feeling in her shoulder caused by the strap.
When Patience came to the end of her row, the foreman weighed her cotton on the hooked scale.
"Another fifty pounds! Believe you'll make two hundred before the day's gone."
"God willing," she answered.
"Two hundred pounds, I declare!" exclaimed Mother Barker. "I believe you'll beat me today," she said, picking alongside Patience.
"This cotton's so ripe you barely have to touch it. It just jumps in your sack."
Patience shaded her eyes and saw a cloud of chee-chee birds fly up on the east end of the field. Nothing else in the air stirred. The sun glared red-eyed and dropped heat on their bowed heads. Patience unbent herself and stretched, watching the brown chee-chee birds on the skinny, dark leaves of the miniature blackjack trees lift their wings and turn toward the sun. "I'd like to fly on away from here," she murmured. "Just like a bird. Only perch down to earth when Ifelt like it. "
"I'm afraid you're too heavy to fly, child," Mother Barker allowed, looking at Patience's swollen belly.
When the sun had left, leaving only a rosy glow at the far end of the sky, the women pulled the long sack straps off their shoulders. They straightened up, put their hands on their hips, leaned back, and shook the cramps off their backs and legs.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I first read "Marked by Fire" the summer after my 8th grade year....And it changed my life forever. This read gave me the stragth.
Wow I enjoyed this so much and it is so unpreedictable. People don't write good books like this any more. If you love to read thean no matter who you are you will love to read this book. I will make you smile, make you cry and make you want to keep on reading.
this was a great book if you are old or young