As the Civil War churns through its final year, 13-year-old Samuel does his best to keep his younger brother, Joshua, out of trouble. At their Tennessee orphanage for black boys, Father Mosely teaches the boys how to read and write and pray, activities at which Samuel excels. When it seems that Joshua will be blamed for a shocking transgression, pious Samuel stands up and falsely admits to the wrongdoing. Little does he know that his punishment takes him out of the free state of Tennessee and deep into Mississippi, where everyone with black skin is a slave. Sold to a family-owned plantation, Samuel is callously dubbed “Friday.” Yet despite his loss of identity and the terrible plight of his fellow slaves, Samuel remains luminously faithful to his God. His goodness attracts the attention of Gerald, a boy near Samuel’s own age who acts as the master of the plantation while his father fights with the rebels.
In his first young adult novel, Jon Walter conjures a fresh look at the intimacy between slaves and their owners. Gerald genuinely values Samuel’s friendship, and a particularly telling scene involves Gerald’s attempt to whip a slave. Walter portrays Samuel’s pure religious faith with lovely passages that ring through his endless travails. This novel will surely become part of the Civil War literary experience, offering readers of any age much to ponder.
Diane Colson is the Library Director at City College in Gainesville, Florida.