Saturday, July 4, 2009

Across the Wide River 1: Intro

Stephanie Reed's Across the Wide River tells the story of Lowry Rankin, a boy on the first station of the Underground Railroad, and his struggle to overcome his extreme shyness and become an abolitionist minister like his father.

After Lowry's slave friend is nearly killed by a savage beating, Lowry's father moves "across the wide river" from Kentucky to Ohio--a "free" state, though not altogether free for slaves. The Rankin farm becomes the first station on the Underground Railroad, with a light in the window beckoning to slaves across the river to flee to freedom--not in Ohio proper, which is only the first stage, but ultimately in Canada, where they will be tolerated and not enslaved.

Lowry finds himself an outsider both because of his father's outspoken views and his own Kentucky accent, and the sleepless nights of helping out runaway slaves make matters worse. Then there are the moments of typical nineteenth-century fun such as a cholera epidemic...

Across the Wide River is a character-driven story with a heavy emphasis on setting--not just the physical setting but the attitudes common at the time and the events that shaped them. The historical aspect has been well researched, so the story constitutes edutainment, though the fact that it's more character driven than event driven may be problematic for the high-speed chase crowd. (On the other hand, the Jane Austen crowd should do okay, and even the Harry Potter people may get by.) This is not to say there is no suspense: there's no shortage of Bad Stuff happening, and since the Rankins are breaking the law by helping the slaves, even more Bad Stuff is poised to dump on them if they slip up. For that matter, Lowry's own psychological impediment may keep him not only from his career destiny but from the woman he loves. Will he get a grip and learn to speak up?

Tomorrow we'll look at the strengths of the story.

In the meantime, is there more on the CFRB tour? You bet your buttons! Or better yet, try mine:

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