I went to Seattle Public Library’s downtown branch to see Seattle authors Judy Bentley and Lorraine McConaghy read from their new book, FREE BOY, the story of a thirteen-year-old slave who escaped from Washington Territory to freedom in Canada on the West's Underground Railroad. Charles Mitchell was the property of James Tilton, Surveyor General of Washington Territory, and this book is a twined biography of the two.
A fascinating, lightly fictionalized account, the story answered (and raised) some questions for me about my home state: In the Pacific Northwest during the Civil War era, what were the predominant attitudes toward race? How did people of the territories—not yet States, and therefore with no voting rights—feel about slavery? What might it have been like to be one of the only slaves in Washington Territory?
Written with deft, lucid prose, this book is a reminder of why lightly fictionalized biography is a marvelous genre. Without taking as many liberties as historical fiction, FREE BOY provides richly detailed settings and imagined conversations (based on documented events) that bring the story to life. This is a book for YA and upper middle-grade readers alike—and frankly, adults. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. The author presentation was one of the best I’ve seen; relaxed and funny, but also reflective of serious scholarship.
Judy Bentley and Lorraine McConaghy will be speaking again soon:
Saturday, May 4, 1 p.m. Village Lights Bookstore, Madison, Indiana
Wednesday, May 29, 7 p.m. Village Books, Bellingham, Washington
For more information, see her site: www.judybentley.com