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47 Paperback – November 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-10–Esteemed adult mystery writer Walter Mosley has written a compelling story (Little, 2005) for young adults about life on a Georgia plantation in 1832, including a futuristic interpretation of the slave trickster tale, High John the Conqueror. The late actor Ossie Davis narrates with authority in his distinctive, rich baritone, imparting dignity and vivacity to each of the characters using subtle changes in his gravelly voice. Slaves often didn't have real names, but were called by their assigned numbers. A slight boy of 14, Forty-seven is sent to live in the slave quarters and to work in the cotton fields after having lived under the protection of another slave since he was orphaned at birth. Forty-seven meets and becomes friends with a young runaway slave, Tall John, whose constant refrain to the teen is neither master nor nigger be. Tall John explains that he came from another world in a sun ship hundreds of years ago to find 47, who is destined to save the world. After the plantation owner's daughter falls ill, Tall John convinces him that he can find herbs in the woods to save her. When they take too long to return, a fight ensues and harsh punishments are meted out. Subsequently, Tall John and and Forty-seven try to organize an escape to freedom. Mosley brilliantly documents the day-to-day life of slaves. The story is built on the themes of friendship, loyalty, freedom, and responsibility. Where it seems to falter and become confusing is in the futuristic plot of other worlds and battles to come. Perhaps that hints at a sequel and might be a good hook for young adults. A good listen for those who want a solid historical fiction story about American slavery, and for fans of Nancy Farmer and Gary Paulsen's Nightjohn and Transall Saga.–Jo-Ann Carhart, East Islip Public, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Gr. 7-10. In his first YA book, acclaimed mystery writer Mosley tells a stirring story of escape from slavery in which sf and African American myth blend with the realism of plantation brutality and the courage of resistance. A boy today remembers himself as a 14-year-old slave named 47, living in Georgia in 1832. He recalls being chained, branded, and whipped until the runaway Tall John inspires him to fulfill his destiny and lead his people to freedom. Like the mythical figure High John the Conqueror, the runaway comes from "beyond Africa," and he shows the boy the secrets of the universe. Above all, 47 takes in Tall John's repeated lesson ("Neither master nor nigger be"), which is finally what sets him free. The magical realism allows for some plot contrivance, but Mosley brings the harsh facts and anguish very close, and the first-person narrative shows and tells how "slavery is the most unbelievable part of this whole story." Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (November 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316016357
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316016353
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Walter Mosley is one of America's most celebrated and beloved writers. His books have won numerous awards and have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Mosley is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series of mysteries, including national bestsellers Cinnamon Kiss, Little Scarlet, and Bad Boy Brawly Brown; the Fearless Jones series, including Fearless Jones, Fear Itself, and Fear of the Dark; the novels Blue Light and RL's Dream; and two collections of stories featuring Socrates Fortlow, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, for which he received the Anisfield-Wolf Award, and Walkin' the Dog. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Brundage on July 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"Neither master nor nigger be."

Powerful words. And a prominent theme running through the remarkable book, 47 by Walter Mosley, an African-American writer best known for his Easy Rawlins series of detective novels-one of which, "Devil in a Blue Dress"-was made into a major motion picture starring Denzel Washington.

This is Mosley's first novel for young adults, but there's plenty in 47 for a grown-up to ponder. Set on a cotton plantation in the South in 1832, it is the first person narrative of "47", a 14-year old slave, brand new to the fields, as he's just gotten big enough to work (slaves don't receive names, only numbers). The up-close look at the institution from this particular perspective is a revelation. Using his hero as an instrument, Mosley describes the physical, psychological and emotional effects the "lifestyle" has on those in its clutches, and who have known nothing else. He does it in simple, stark, powerful words. The reader sees the deep and lasting effect of being raised from birth in a society that is convinced you are inferior, is in your face about it, and has engineered an entire society based on the fact.

I don't have room for details, but rest assured that 47 is an intelligent, heroic young man, capable of great feats of bravery and compassion, as he proves time and time again in the course of the novel. Yet even though this is the case, halfway through the book he still honestly believes, that "All I knew was how to be lazy and how to work like a dog." When he has to kill a white man in self-defense, he immediately looks up to the sky "looking for God's retribution". These and other like insights add up to create a powerful indictment of societal conditioning, and illuminate the folly of judging a people as intrinsically inferior.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Ms. Pam on June 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I listened to the Unabridged Audio version of "47", narrated by the late, great Ossie Davis. It was a wonderful experience. The story although aimed toward young teen audiences, is not too simple for adults to enjoy. This story is a heartfelt introduction to slavery for today's youth (to whom many this history is forgotten.) Kudos to Mr. Mosley for taking on such a tough subject; and for the foresight to aim it to a young audience.

On another note, Ossie Davis did an outstanding job with the narrative; I will always treasure this as one of his great works of art.

-- P. Walker-Williams, PageTurner.net
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on March 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
47 is a strange, interesting book. It's part history of slavery in America, and part science fiction with a mysterious ET. What's even stranger is that the odd combination works. 47 is a 14 year old slave back in 1832. He's always out in the cotton fields picking cotton, feeling sorry for himself. Along come a mysterious stranger named Tall John. 47 thinks Tall John is a slave too, until he finds out that the stranger is really an alien from another world, with unusual powers. At first 47 assumes that Tall John is there to free him and the other slaves, but Tall John is really there to help 47 fight against the Calash, enemies of Tall John's race from his home planet. Capable of making themselves look exactly like humans, they are controlling real humans and must be defeated. 47 turns out to be brave and bold (as Tall John knew all along) and he and other slaves rise up against the Calash and save our world. By living up to his potential and full abilities, 47 shows that no matter who you are, adversity can be overcome with courage and conviction. Another book I read with a similar theme is An Audience for Einstein, a story about a 12 year old who is also helped to overcome great odds.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on December 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Walter Mosley is likely to capture a new generation of readers and fans with his first book for young adult readers, 47. The story is a mix of history, mythology (particularly the story of Tall John the Conqueror), and science fiction that is sure to become a timeless classic. The book title is derived from the name and number of its main character, 47. He opens the book by explaining that he has been the same age for the last 170 years, and as the story unfolds, he sets about explaining how.

47 lived a relatively sheltered life as a slave until he was put to work in the cotton fields. Tired from being overworked in the fields, isolated because other field slaves felt he has had it too easy in life, and hurt by his sense of betrayal because the woman who raised him, Big Mama, wouldn't keep him out of the fields, 47 feels dejected, alone and exhausted. All that changes when he meets what he initially thinks is a runaway slave, but later learns is an extraterrestrial being, Tall John. Tall John, who is from beyond Africa, has supernatural powers and has come to help 47 fulfill his destiny. The two form an immediate bond, and in spite of the fact that it takes 47 a while to realize it, fate has brought them together. 47 is awestruck, not only by Tall John's powers, but also by his strength, and for a while he believes that Tall John has come to save him and other slaves. Little does he know, Tall John is only a teacher, sent to share his wisdom, and to prepare 47 so he can someday realize his full potential.

This book is one that is difficult to review because it does so much so well. Mosley seamlessly merges history and fantasy and the result is a page turner that will leave you breathless.
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