Under a moonlit sky, 12-year-old Homer and his little sister, Ada, run away from Southerland Plantation, frantically scrambling to stay ahead of the dogs unleashed by their enslaver to track them. Tragically, Mama is left behind, but they follow her final instructions: “Get to the river.”
Together, Homer and Ada make their way through the unfamiliar swampy landscape. Homer tries to memorize their route so that he can eventually make his way back to Southerland to rescue Mama. Deep in the swamp, the siblings are discovered by Suleman, who brings them to Freewater, a hidden, thriving community composed of formerly enslaved people and children born free. When the safety and shelter Freewater offers are threatened, Homer must do everything he can to survive while holding out hope of reuniting his family.
Journalist and historian Amina Luqman-Dawson’s debut middle grade novel, Freewater, is historical fiction at its finest. In a detailed author’s note, Luqman-Dawson describes how the book’s titular community was inspired by real “spaces of Black resistance,” particularly those within the Great Dismal Swamp in eastern Virginia and North Carolina. Luqman-Dawson’s thorough research into such communities rings clear on every page of the novel.
Freewater is also a gripping, emotional story. Its short chapters and expert pacing seize the reader’s attention, and its young freedom-seeking protagonists are instantly engaging. Luqman-Dawson’s novel is, in her own words, a moving reminder that “wherever African enslavement existed in the Americas, a culture . . . of extraordinary resistance was always present.”