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Promises to the Dead Kindle Edition

39 customer reviews

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Length: 220 pages Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled Age Level: 10 - 12
Grade Level: 5 - 7

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hahn's (Anna All Year Round) historical novel, set in a divided Maryland at the beginning of the Civil War, portrays an unconvincing tale of escape from slavery. The story begins with a tenuous premise: 12-year-old narrator Jesse stumbles on a desperate pregnant runaway captive (whom Jesse recognizes), Lydia, and her young son, Perry, fathered by her recently deceased master, Peregrine Baxter. She holds Jesse at knifepoint ("She'd just as soon kill you as look at you," Perry tells Jesse), yet as the woman is dying from childbirth, Jesse promises her that he'll deliver Perry to Peregrine Baxter's sister in Baltimore (though readers will question whether he'd find a welcome reception). While readers may suspend disbelief regarding Jesse's risk taking, they may not take the leap of faith that captives with even more to lose would help them so freely. For example, during a riot inspired by the influx of Union soldiers in Baltimore (based on actual events), the "meanest and most determined slave-catcher in Talbot County" nabs Perry and knocks Jesse, with a pistol, on the head; Jesse faints in front of Judge Baxter's (Peregrine Baxter's father) residence, and the judge's staff secretly nurses him for weeks. The connection between Jesse and Perry is not fully developed, hence their relationship--as well as Jesse's Herculean efforts--seems hollow. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Grade 4-6-Despite some unlikely coincidences and superficial secondary characters, this is a reasonably exciting adventure story that integrates many historical details. When 12-year-old Jesse, a white Southerner, promises Lydia, a slave who dies while trying to escape, that he will take her young son, Perry, to relatives in Baltimore, he finds himself not only traveling farther than he's ever been, but caught up in the outbreak of the Civil War as well. The focus of the story is Jesse's realization about the evils of slavery, personified by the despicable Colonel Botfield, who is searching for the runaways. In the end, Jesse has learned to question much of what he has been taught. The African-American characters, while mostly brave and good, serve mainly to move the plot along. Some readers may find the facts that Perry's father was a white slave owner who seduced Lydia and that Colonel Botfield is indeed Lydia's father confusing. While these details add important historical information, they overload the plot at times. Still, the dangers that Jesse and Perry encounter, and the events they witness, from a riot in Baltimore to a skirmish with Union soldiers, make this an involving story that raises many of the issues that led to the Civil War.
Cyrisse Jaffee, formerly at Newton Public Schools, MA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details


More About the Author

Mary Downing Hahn, a former children's librarian, is the award-winning author of many popular ghost stories, including Deep and Dark and Dangerous and The Old Willis Place. An avid reader, traveler, and all-around arts lover, Ms. Hahn lives in Columbia, Maryland, with her two cats, Oscar and Rufus.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on December 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book, Promises to the Dead, is a great book that took place during the Civil War time. It begins when Jesse is hunting turtles for the family's famous soup in the family down in the creek. The next thing he knows is that he's finding himself promising a dying slave women that he'll take her young son, Perry, to a relative in Baltimore. Caring for a slave was against the law and against everthing Jesse was thought. He can't break a promise made to the dead and more importanly, he must follow what in his heart is right. The journey turns out complety different from what Jesse thought. He comes upon many hard decisions and tough choices he must do for what he thinks is right. Does Jesse make it through? Read the book to find out!!
I did like the book because it was suspensful and tought you to do was right from wrong. It really made you think of what is important in life. I would recommend the book if you like to be in suspense and if you like books on Historical Fiction and wars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Emily Simonet on January 3, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was the best book I read by this author and so far I have read three books by this author. But this book was so fascinating to me that I read it one whole day I could put the book down, and this is a true story, in the back of the book it tells how this story was a true story that happens to the authors parents grandparents. This is the third book I read and it was amazing ever book I pick up by this author I end up loving it more than I loved the one before . I give this book five stars. One of my new ball time favorites.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on April 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
i thought this book was very interesting it told a lot about how it was when there was slaves.people who like mysteries and thrillers should read this i think mary downing is a great writer and that everyone should read it to find out what it was really like in a persons point of view that was there when there was slaves.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Kittner on January 6, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Loved everything about this novel: the dialect, the quest, the uncommon friendship.

I would highly recommend this novel, and don't be dissuaded by the title and Hahn's other novels -- this isn't a ghost story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By teacher for life on January 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a middle school teacher, I am always looking for books which will catch the interest of my students. This book has danger, the mysterious, and a touch of history that will grab their attention.
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By CC Thomas on June 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This is not a typical Hahn book and so, at first, I was a little disappointed. When I pick up a Hahn, I have been programmed to expect chills, thrills and goosebumps. Well, actually, some of that was true in this book, too, but not because of a scary ghost. The chills came from the living--which was so much more evil than anything undead.

The story is set during the Civil War (a historic setting was another departure for Hahn's regular style). Jesse is an orphan who lives with his bachelor uncle who sends him into the swamps one night hunting for a turtle so that he might have terrapin soup made by their slave cook. As Jesse is stumbling around in the dark muck, he comes across an escaped slave, who is about to give birth, and her young son. As a Southerner, Jesse has been taught to turn all slaves in but something about this young mother tickles his conscience and, instead, he goes to get her help. On her death bed, the slave makes Jesse promise that he will deliver her young son to relations in the North so that he might be free. It is a promise that Jesse dreads making because he knows it will bring him nothing but trouble.

I really liked this book. I fell in love with the character of Jesse--I've never seen a character have so much angst over doing the right thing! The story snuck up on me and surprised me because I was ready to be disappointed with it. That's what I get for doubting Hahn, a master storyteller of any genre.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kelly C on April 8, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
Not as chilling as many of MDH's other books. Still a very good book, however. I got this from my school library, and I have friends who read it and feel the same way.

~Kelly
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tina on May 6, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this for my daughter and have decided to read it myself. My daughter is 12 and loves this author and wants all her books. It's really good read so far!
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