Eleven-year-old Eliza keeps a journal of her life as a slave on a farm in Alexandria, Va., in 1845. Ever since Eliza's mother was sold at a slave auction, Eliza has gotten by with the support of another slave woman, Abbey, and by holding close to her heart the stories and the story quilt her mother passed down to her. When Eliza discovers that she, too, will be sold upon her sick mistress' death, she decides to risk everything on a journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman. As she makes her harrowing journey, Eliza tells her mother's stories, each one keyed to a square in the quilt and just right for the situation at hand. In this well-crafted tale, Nolen reveals some of the traumas and tragedies of slavery but keeps her focus on those things that allow Eliza the power to escape: literacy, her mother's legacy, a bit of luck and a great deal of courage. Although the novel's power and poignancy are somewhat undermined by its much-too-tidy happy ending, its relative slimness will see that it gets plenty of use. (Historical fiction. 8-12)Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Gr 4-7--As she turns 12, Eliza is a Virginia house slave, increasingly responsible for the care of the ailing mistress who taught her to read and write. Since Sir sold her mother a year earlier, Eliza has only motherly cook Abbey, the discarded diary Abbey encourages her to write in, and a story quilt her mother made. When the mistress takes Eliza along to stay with family in Maryland, Eliza learns of the Underground Railroad from fellow slaves and a found stack of newspapers containing the serialized Uncle Tom's Cabin. With the help of a shadowy Harriet Tubman herself, Eliza escapes to freedom in Ontario, where by chance she reunites with her mother. Presented as the girl's diary published later by the adult Elizabeth, the narrative suffers from thin characterizations and awkward pacing resulting from sometimes forced pauses to record her mother's stories. While the writing is peppered with salient details of slave life and the times, Eliza experiences little of the brutality and, more important, the difficult choices, fleshed-out relationships, and internal struggles that humanize Patricia McKissack's Clotee in A Picture of Freedom (Scholastic, 1997), Jennifer Armstrong's Bethlehem in Steal Away (Orchard Books, 1992), or Elisa Carbone's real-life Ann Marie Weems in Stealing Freedom (Knopf, 1998). More didactic than authentic, Eliza's story serves as an effective vehicle to relate and contextualize 10 important folktales and Bible stories that were woven through the slave experience, though readers may wish for a more fully realized narrative holding those stories together.--Riva Pollard, Prospect Sierra Middle School, El Cerrito, CA[Page 116]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.