Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review - "Freedom Stone"

Jeffrey Kluger's Freedom Stone is an odd little book. Part historical fiction, part magical fantasy, it meshes together in the story of one slave child trying to write a wrong, save her little brother from being sold and see her family free. Lillie is thirteen years old when her father is killed fighting for the Confederate army, an act that should have freed her, her mother and her brother, Plato. But when a sack of Union gold is found on her father's person, he is called a thief, and their Master not only keeps the gold for himself, but refuses to free Lillie and her family. Lillie must prove her father was an honest man, and goes about doing so with the help of Bett, the old slave woman who bakes bread. Because Bett has a secret. Her baking can bend time, making it slow down, like the bees outside her cabin, or sped up, as Lillie needs it to do one night when she has a mission at another plantation.
I wasn't sure how I felt about Freedom Stone when I finished it. It had taken a day or two to really get into the story, though once it hit its stride, I was invested and eager to get to the conclusion. There was just something that unsettled me, and I think I know now what it was. The magical element of the story, while inventive, was not really needed. This was a story that could have been told, with only a few changes, with no magic at all. I would almost say the magic was wasted. Lillie is a wonderful character, full of strength and courage, and her story has a certain charge to it that would have been just as interesting without the magic of Bett's stones.
I would still recommend Freedom Stone to readers. My only issue was in wishing the magical elements of the story had been better integrated. As a whole it has value as historical fiction, and its point of view (acknowledging that slaves weren't simply, magically freed when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation) is one that you don't see very often and was interesting to read. And Lillie is definitely a character worth getting to know.
Freedom Stone by Jeffrey Kluger
2011, Philomel
Library copy

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