The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

When thirteen year old Sophie, bored with her life in the summer of 1960 in rural Louisiana, wishes for a magical adventure, a nameless, capricious, ghostly creature sends her 100 years into the past to the year 1860 in Louisiana, just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Sophie gets a lot more adventure than she bargained for, and she soon realizes that going back into the past isn’t all fun and games.

The Freedom Maze is kind of a Gone With the Wind tale, set on an antebellum Louisiana plantation and told from the point of view of the black slaves instead of the white masters (or mistresses). In fact, it might be a good balance or antidote to Gone With the Wind and other romanticized versions of life in the Old South. It certainly wasn’t all belles and balls and big dresses, especially not for the slaves who made the economy and culture of the region workable by their bondage and labor. I thought it was fascinating, educational, well-written, and terribly sad, with a touch of hope at the end. Older middle grade readers (age 13 and up) who are interested in learning the truth about what slavery was really like will find the story illuminating.

Warning: This book contains “hoodoo” and herb magic and superstition and ghostly magical creatures. The way these things were portrayed in the book wasn’t a problem for me as a conservative, evangelical Christian, but if you don’t want any elements like these in your reading or your child’s, then The Freedom Maze is not for you. Even more problematical for some readers might be the recurring stories of attempted rape and miscegenation as slave owners “meddle with” their female slaves producing light-skinned progeny who remain enslaved and considered “black.” That this sort of thing happened frequently is undeniable, and the descriptions are not graphic. However, my eleven year old would be clueless and confused as to what was going on in this story. My thirteen year old just might learn something about the tragedies of life and of our history.

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