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The Night I Freed John Brown Hardcover – May 29, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

"Grade 7–10—Josh lives in Harpers Ferry, WV, in an aging limestone house with his two bullying older brothers, timid mother, and tyrannical father. Known for its connections to legendary historical figures such as John Brown and Frederick Douglass, the town attracts many visitors. Living in its fishbowl atmosphere brings shame and anger to Josh's father but evokes joy and creativity in their new neighbors, the Richmonds. Josh envies everything about Luke Richmond. He envies his new friend's normal brothers, kind father, and beautiful house, which is almost an exact duplicate of the abandoned house Josh's father grew up in on the outskirts of town. Explanations for his father's anger, the abandoned house, and other family secrets are revealed just as Josh's world comes crashing down around him. The pacing of the story is slow and the characters are one-dimensional and oftentimes stereotypical. The metaphors involving John Brown are often forced and the historical relationship between Brown's acts and Josh's experiences will be lost on many teens. The author attempts to address too many conflicts—family dysfunction, corruption in the Catholic Church, John Brown's legacy—and fails to bring about a convincing resolution to any of them. While there is some action and adventure, this title will appeal to a limited number of young adults." —Lynn Rashid, Marriots Ridge High School, Marriotsville, MD
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From Kirkus Reviews

"Harpers Ferry, WV, a little town tucked in the shadows of the surrounding mountains, is a perfect place for an old-fashioned tale of family secrets and revelations. It was the site of John Brown’s raid, and the ghost of John Brown lives on in the anger and rage of Josh Connors’s father. The gentler spirits of Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass, who also had connections to the town, seem to inhabit the neighbor Josh is drawn to, an actor, historian and reader of Shakespeare who kindles in Josh a desire to see more of the world and lead a better life. But all is not what it seems, and the psychological drama set up in the conflict between the two men unfolds in a tense series of nighttime events through which Josh learns much about his father’s past and from which springs a hope for transcendence. Characterizations are sharp, the setting eerily evoked and the story satisfying. A highly original meditation on how the past can haunt the present. (Fiction. 12+)"

Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 860L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel Books (May 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399250549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399250545
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,942,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Michael Cummings is a fifth-generation native of historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, site of abolitionist John Brown's raid in 1859. Cummings is the author of the nationally acclaimed coming-of-age novel "The Night I Freed John Brown" (Philomel Books, Penguin Group, 2008), winner of The Paterson Prize and recommended by USA TODAY for Black History Month.

His 2011 short story collection, "Ugly To Start With" (West Virginia University Press), was an IndieFab Award Finalist hailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer for its "sharp observation and surpassing grace."

His latest novel, Don't Forget Me, Bro (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2015) has been excerpted in The Chicago Tribune.

Over the last twenty years, Cummings' short stories and essays have appeared in more than seventy-five literary journals, including The Iowa Review, North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and The Kenyon Review. Twice he has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. His short story "The Scratchboard Project" received an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories 2007.

Cummings holds a B.A. in studio art from George Mason University and an MFA in creative writing from University of Central Florida.

He lives in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"The Night I Freed John Brown" provokes feelings and stimulates the intellect to dig deeper to discover what is real and what has come from the inspired mind of the author. John Michael Cummings' debut novel is alive with history and filled with the adventuresome spirit and imagination of an adolescent boy.

Thirteen year old Josh Connors is ashamed of his rundown house, his shabby clothes, his family and especially his bully of a father. You feel the shame and throughout the book you search for that one person who will save Josh from his tortured life.

By the end of the story, Josh discovers a certain strength and greatness in the very people he's judged inferior, including himself.

I recommend this exciting new novel for young readers.
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Format: Hardcover
Thirteen-year-old Josh feels like he lives his life in the shadows. On one side of his rundown house towers the huge church and on the other side sits the fancy, five-story historical residence. His angry father allows the yard to be overgrown in order to hide their house and family from the thousands of tourists who visit Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, every year to learn about the famous John Brown and his attempts to free the slaves. Josh's dad doesn't like tourists --- or much of anything.

Then a new park employee moves into the fancy historical house next door with his three sons. Luke, the youngest, is 13, and he and Josh instantly become friends. Josh feels drawn to the neighbor's place, with their beautiful house and glitzy belongings, and, most especially, to the family itself. Luke's father isn't angry all the time and doesn't yell or push his sons around, and Luke's brothers don't get in trouble with the park rangers for messing with the tourists. They even read Shakespeare, practice for the annual John Brown play, and seem to enjoy spending time together. Even better is that they invite Josh to join them. At the neighbor's house, Josh feels an acceptance, an appreciation for himself that he doesn't experience at home. He can't help but be jealous of their seemingly perfect lives.

Back at home, a storm that has been threatening to burst for years is brewing. The family used to go to church and visit Josh's grandparents in their caretaker's home for the Catholic retreat. But now his father wants nothing to do with the church or with the house he grew up in, and no one will tell Josh anything. Then one night, all of the pent-up angry feelings explode, and someone gets hurt. Things aren't as they seem, and Josh is ready for some answers.
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Format: Hardcover
Though this book is nominally for "young adults," it's a rip-roaring good story that will appeal to almost anyone who was ever a boy or had a father.

The central character is Josh, a 13-year-old boy growing up in a poor family in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Both literally and figuratively, Josh and his family live in the shadow of the church next door, of their more affluent neighbors, and of the legendary John Brown, the 19th-century abolitionist whose statue glares at their house from across the street.

For an adult reader such as myself, the book awakens long-sleeping memories of the world as seen in childhood: small and intimate, yet imbued with cosmic portent and urgency. Cummings's greatest achievement as a writer is to re-inhabit this world and take his readers along with him. He tells the story from Josh's point of view, with never a false note, never an adult voice intruding into the narrative, never a sly wink at the reader.

The truth and sincerity of the writing are joined by its remarkable insight into the relationship between boys and their fathers. The mystery of John Brown, of the abandoned house, of the search for "cowmint" - all those are mere surrogates for the real mystery Josh must solve. It's a mystery that every boy must confront as he grows up: the mystery of his own father. First made an object of uncritical hero-worship, then seen as a foolish bully, and at last accepted as a fully-realized human being with virtues, flaws, courage, and fears, Josh's father - like the reader's - is finally understood.

Kids will love it because it tells a true and exciting story that's really about *them*. Adults will love it for different reasons, as a time-warp trip back into their own past.
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Format: Hardcover
This wonderfully written story is centered on the life of a 13-year-old boy growing up in Harpers Ferry, a tourist town famous for the abolitionist John Brown's raid in 1859. Young Josh Connors is haunted by the violent image of John Brown--it reminds him of his own angry, controlling father. And Josh cannot escape John Brown, since he lives directly across the street from the John Brown Wax Museum, where a large, frightening-looking wax tableaux of the crusader stands.

With the arrival of new neighbors, the Richmonds, Josh's sheltered and constrained life takes an unexpected turn. The Richmonds are completely different from his own provincial family; they are fun and open-minded, with a passion for history and theater. When Josh shares with them his belief in cowmint, a mythical plant that his father made up and what has become over the years a lost family symbol of faith in the impossible, he is adopted into a new and exciting world. Doubling the magic of his new friendship with this Shakespeare-loving family is that their house next door is a haunting duplicate of his father's childhood house, a "farmer's Victorian" that stands deserted upriver from town--deserted but strangely intact, awaiting some sort of reckoning.

In a charming mystery that takes us from the historic town, to a play about John Brown, and finally to where it all began for Josh's father--the abandoned family home upriver--THE NIGHT I FREED JOHN BROWN is a story of lost faith regained. There are unlikely heroes, including a small mint plant that, like faith, just won't die.

This is simply a wonderful, vibrantly written novel. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
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