A solid historical foundation, strong characterizations, and lyrical descriptions highlight Hegamin’s rich novel about slavery and black/white relations before the Civil War. Set in 1848 on the border of the Mason-Dixon line, the story follows two black teenagers: a motherless 15-year-old slave, Willow, and an educated 17-year-old freeborn boy, Cato, passionate about helping fugitive slaves. Eventually their paths cross, but even then the focus remains strongly on Willow and her struggle between being a devoted daughter and fifth-generation slave on Knotwild Plantation and her hunger for education. Willow is taught to read and write by the fair-minded and kind master, Reverend Jeffries, and her poetic voice resonates from the opening pages: “The tree bowed to the edge of the river in such a polite way that it looked as though the tree were asking the river for a waltz.” Hegamin (M+O 4EVR) creates a broad spectrum of believable black characters, while white roles (excepting Rev Jeff) are relatively minor and rarely sympathetic. Tension and suspense infuse the book, but build most effectively in the final scenes, when freedom seems unattainable. Engrossing and educational. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jeff Dwyer, Dwyer & O’Grady. (Feb.)
Stirring. ... Readers will be caught up in the girl's quiet bravery and her search for the truth behind her mother's mysterious, long-ago death. Even as Tonya Cherie Hegamin reveals slavery's dehumanizing effect on every character black and white, owned and owner she also celebrates the power of friendship and love.
—The Washington Post
[A]ffecting... Hegamin has crafted a suspenseful coming-of-age novel filled with captivating and poetic language. Character building is strong, and Willow’s growth and transformation is both heartbreaking and inspirational. A must-read for those who enjoy historical fiction.
—School Library Journal
A riveting historical novel... The clear prose of Hegamin allows for a realistic, relatable narrative and underscores the injustices of enslavement. ... Hegamin handles the adult realities of enslavement and the nineteenth-century setting appropriately for high school readers. ... Hegamin’s exemplary novel complements such classics as the slave narratives by Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass.
—The Horn Book
This richly textured narrative deftly teases out attitudes that are too often simplified elsewhere. ... An intelligent story. Hegamin touches on themes rarely treated with such grace and nuance; her combination of history, thoughtful reflection, suspense, and romance will satisfy broad readerly tastes.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
[An] arresting story, richly historical, with an engaging narrator and well-drawn secondary characters...
A gripping ... exploration of the anguishing impact of slavery. —Kirkus Reviews
With an unflinching eye, Hegamin explores the complicated relationships created by slavery, and the horrors specific to being a female slave. ... [T]he final exploration of [Willow's family] secrets creates a beautiful parallel to Willow’s current dilemma. Duty, love, and the freedom to be a fully realized human being make up the crux of this stirring tale.
Tonya Cherie Hegamin slides period details into Willow's simple, insightful narrative, creating a fluid reading experience... "Willow" is a well-researched historical novel that features a unique aspect of American slavery.
A solid historical foundation, strong characterizations, and lyrical descriptions highlight Hegamin’s rich novel about slavery and black/white relations before the Civil War. ... Engrossing and educational.
A riveting historical novel set in 1848,
Willow tells the story of a young woman living on the border between the slave state of Maryland and the free state of Pennsylvania. Willow’s life on Knotwild plantation changes when she turns fifteen because she is being forced to marry and bear children who will also be slaves. Reverend Jeffries, the hypocritical plantation owner, is bringing an unethical new wife and son to Knotwild from Baltimore. Willow’s secret diary entries become the way Cato, a freeborn African American man who assists fugitive slaves, falls in love with her. Readers feel Willow’s struggle when she declares, “I want to be free! I want to make my own decisions about what to do with myself!” Willow must cross the Mason-Dixon Line for good in order to seize her chance for freedom and love. The clear prose of Hegamin allows for a realistic, relatable narrative and underscores the injustices of enslavement. Memorable characters include Ryder, Willow’s stern yet loving father; Cholly Dee, who knew Willow’s mother before they were kidnapped in Africa; Silvey, an exploited but undaunted lady’s maid; and Mayapple, Willow’s horse. The ending fits the plot perfectly. Hegamin handles the adult realities of enslavement and the nineteenth-century setting appropriately for high school readers. Famous historical figures mentioned include Nat Turner and Phyllis Wheatley, both of whom inspire Willow. Hegamin’s exemplary novel complements such classics as the slave narratives by Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass. Reviewer: Amy Cummins; Ages 15 to 18.
VOYA, February 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 6) - Amy Cummins
In 1848 Maryland, Willow is content with her lot in life on Knotwild Plantation: Reverend Jeffries is a kind master, and she and her father, Ryder, enjoy more freedoms than many slaves. Rev. Jeff even taught her to read, although he is dismayed to discover that she does not limit herself to the Bible, but has moved on to Shakespeare. When her father and the reverend decide that it is time for her to marry a slave on a neighboring plantation, the fifteen-year-old realizes just how little say she has in her own future. One day, as Willow visits her mother’s grave, she witnesses a free young black man on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line helping a runaway slave. The slave successfully disappears into the Pennsylvania woods, but Cato injures his ankle and is forced to hide out near the plantation for days. Willow later finds him, and as they come to know each other, he pleads with her to escape to freedom in Pennsylvania. Initially, she cannot bring herself to leave her father, and when he does finally convince her and some of the other slaves to break free, Ryder comes very close to sabotaging their plans. While the first-person perspective for Willow and the third-person perspective for Cato can be a bit jarring, Hegamin offers contemplative readers an engaging story about one girl’s efforts to be loyal to herself and to her family. Reviewer: Kim Dare; Ages 14 up.
Children's Literature - Kim Dare
Gr 7 Up—Willow is an affecting novel set in 1848 Maryland, on a plantation just south of the Mason-Dixon line. Fifteen-year-old Willow is favored by her master, Rev. Jeff. Despite the laws against educating slaves, he has taught her to read and write, although he forbids her to read anything but the Bible. With terribly cruel plantation masters as her neighbors, Willow feels fortunate to have a place in a good home with a "kind master." Just over the Pennsylvania border, Cato, a young black man, born free, is determined to assist as many slaves to freedom as he can. When their lives intersect, Willow's worldview is thrown into question and she is faced with a monumental decision. Hegamin has crafted a suspenseful coming-of-age novel filled with captivating and poetic language. Character building is strong, and Willow's growth and transformation is both heartbreaking and inspirational. A must-read for those who enjoy historical fiction.—Tiffany Davis, Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY
An educated slave girl struggles against the confines of race and gender in this coming-of-age story set in 1848 on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. Fifteen-year-old Willow, taught to read by her master, writes letters at her mother's grave, located within sight of the granite Mason-Dixon Line marker. Papa, whom Willow adores--until she finds out what really has happened to her mother--is as controlling as any white master and determined to marry Willow off to a brute from the neighboring plantation. Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award–winning author Hegamin ( Most Loved in All the World, 2009, etc.) juxtaposes Willow's first-person narration with Cato's story: a free black 17-year-old aspiring to lead slaves to freedom. When the teens' lives intersect, they fall in love at first sight, precipitating tumultuous results. This arresting story, richly historical, with an engaging narrator and well-drawn secondary characters, is unfortunately marred. The authenticity of Willow's voice, with its awkward sentence structure and dialect, may make the book difficult to access for many in the intended audience. The lack of distinct chapters adds to confusion, as the narrative shifts between the two main characters' stories. The author has researched deeply, but historical tidbits adding local color are so numerous as to impede the plot's progression and even to feel didactic. A gripping but uneven exploration of the anguishing impact of slavery. (Historical fiction. 14-17 )