In 1800, long before the Civil War, there was a slave uprising in Richmond, Virginia, and this stirring fictionalized biography imagines the life of the young rebel leader, Gabriel. Born a slave on a plantation, young Gabriel learns to read with the owner’s son, Thomas, and is trained as a blacksmith in town. But he also witnesses unspeakable brutality: his father is sold away, his mother is whipped, and when Thomas takes over as master, he refuses to allow Gabriel to marry fellow slave Nanny. Inspired by the slave revolt led by Touissant Louverture on Saint Domingue Island, 24-year-old Gabriel calls on his people to fight for freedom, and thousands follow him. With his blacksmith training, he helps forge swords from pitchforks and scythes, but the plot is discovered. The line between fact and fiction is not always clear: Are the slave-owner’s journal entries invented or archival documents? But the authentic newspaper reports put the history in context, and the thrilling role of the unrecognized young hero will grab teen readers. Grades 8-12. --Hazel Rochman
Amateau’s prose is appropriately passionate, but it’s tempered with disciplined restraint and moments of startling delicacy. Although the subject of this title will call to historical fiction readers who appreciate such thoughtful works as M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing (BCCB 11/06), teens who approach history with the poetic insight of Marilyn Nelson will also find Amateau’s chronicle rewarding.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
The thrilling role of the unrecognized young hero will grab teen readers.