The answer is simply this: Slavery was abhorrently wrong and this book captures the gruesomeness of the slave trade without stopping to the real temptation of pounding home a truth to the point wherein the reader closes the pages. Never exploiting the power of the evil, but honestly capturing the horror, Paula Fox did a marvelous job of addressing man's inhumanity to man. In short pages the author accomplished what many writers cannot do with pages of text. In Jessie Bollier lives in New Orleans with his hardworking seamstress mother and his lovable sister.
Veering off the path when returning from his Aunt's house, he is kidnapped and taken aboard a slave ship. He is a young 13 year old white male who, while aware of the dirty business of slavery, had no idea what was in store for him or the slaves. Playing the fife during the day to earn extra money to help his mother renders him a target of the nasty traders who capture him and stow him on the ship.
His job is to play for the slaves when they are allowed a bit of sunshine on deck. Providing sunshine is not done as a kind deed, rather the precious cargo is forced to dance in order to provide stronger muscle tone when they are sold at the final destination of Cuba.
As Jessie witnesses the injustice, his notes become disjointed and shrill and he is beaten if he does not earn his keep. Jessie witnesses fights, treachery and hostility between ship mates. As the ship travels to Africa and then to Cuba, the author's excellent writing, provides clear, crisp images that anchor the reader while the ship is tempest tossed and hell bent toward finishing their destination The journey becomes darker and deeper as evil resides above the deck and 98 slaves witness terror below.
When Jessie asserts that if the slaves are not treated properly there will not be more trading with the salves all gone, the response of a crew mate is simply stated as "The slaves are never gone! Another example of excellent writing are these paragraph: For some time after the sun had set, the sky remained the color of rope. The ship lay steady on the glass-lie surface of the water which was pricked, now and then, into small ripples when a seabird struck its surface.
A few lanterns were strung up to give us light. They made a mystery of the ship -- we floated like a live ember in a great bowl of darkness. This is anything but a light, easy-breezy YA book.
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It is nonetheless a part of history that cries to be told with bitter, angry tears of righteous indignation. And, if as the final page is turned, the reader does not come away with the brutality of American slavery, then there is something dramatically wrong with our society. This is an author I'll be sure to read again. FIVE big stars! Jessie is taken from his mom and sister in New Orleans to play his fife on a slave ship. The slaves, in order to keep healthy, are forced to dance to the music he plays.
Thrust into a dangerous situation, Jessie must survive treacherous crew members, a sadistic captain and the horrors of the slave trade. Well written, the book is engaging and its characters realistic. I believe this book would be highly appealing to teenage boys for its flair of adventure and danger. Jessie Bollier, a thirteen year-old boy living in New Orleans, is pressed into service on a slave ship to play his fife for the slaves to dance to daily to help keep them as healthy as possible.
This is not a book I would recommend for children. The only reason I can give for this to be considered as a children's book it that it is told through the eyes of a boy.
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It depicts complex and dark relationships among the crew members with little explanation of any of their motives. The only slave the reader gets to know at any depth is Ras, and that happens only near the end of the book. This is not an enjoyable reading experience, although realistic. Jessie Bollier is a 13yo boy in New Orleans, kidnapped into service on a slave transport ship because he knows how to play a fife.
As he gets his sea legs, Jessie gets to know the crew, and in the process begins to see his first glimmer of how complex human nature and relations are. Purvis, who kidnapped him, is funny and helpful with advice. Another man, Stout, is superficially kind, but inconsistent. Once the ship reaches Africa and takes on its live cargo of slaves, Jessie's awareness is pushed even further, as he's forced to play his fife to "dance" the slaves as they get periodic exercise on the ship.
The slimness of the book belies the heavy themes it holds. Fox's clear, spare writing conveys Jessie's terror, horror and dawning knowledge of the depths of human cruelty. There are certain things--the occasional kindness of others to Jessie, beautiful days at sea, moments of connection with others--that keep the reader from drowning utterly in the frequently gruesome history this book relates. Highly recommended for adults and older children. None of the characters, however, are much more than devices. The Africans are depicted as rather pathetic and dumb creatures, so much so in fact that is difficult to have sympathy for them.
Maybe slave ship crews were villainous And African slaves pathetic, but their portrayal as such here simply isn't convincing. What saves the book from being failure is the quality of the writing, which is consistently excellent. With such good writing, it is too bad that the book as a whole does not succeed.
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