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Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel Hardcover – September 11, 2012
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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)
Based on a true story of planned rebellion by “Prosser’s Gabriel,” Amateau deftly tucks well-researched period documents into the narrative at opportune moments. Her use of language is both startling and gratifying . . . an anguished tale told with poetry and heart.
In this beautifully written novel, Amateau makes Gabriel a fully realized character fighting not just for an abstract ideal of liberty but also for the freedom of Nanny and their future family. Amateau also makes good use of primary sources, sprinkling actual documents throughout the text. As did M. T. Anderson in his Octavian Nothing volumes (rev. 9/06; 9/08) and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley in Jefferson’s Sons (rev. 1/12), Amateau takes a long look at the tricky business of liberty in a new nation dedicated to freedom.
The thrilling role of the unrecognized young hero will grab teen readers.
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I am not in the habit of reading books aimed at younger readers. This one I read, though, because I know Gigi and because the book is a finalist for the Library of Virginia's People's Choice Award.
Told mostly from the point of view of Gabriel, the leader of the failed rebellion, the story depicts his childhood on a Virginia plantation. It is often the story of betrayal-at the hands of his white playmate who becomes his "master" and his compatriots in the rebellion. But it's also a love story. For me, primarily, it was a history lesson.
I would definitely recommend this book for young readers.
Gabriel grows up to become a blacksmith and in 1800, through a series of events, learns of a successful slave rebellion in Saint Dominigue Haiti led by Touissant L’Ouverture a slave. Gabriel wants freedom for himself, his wife, his unborn children, as well as friends, family and slaves throughout Virginia. He believes he can lead a group of slaves to freedom, just like Touissant, and sets about finding and making weapons, and seeking men to join his makeshift army of rebellion against the White slave owners.
Despite knowing what eventually happened to Gabriel, readers aged 12 and up will be caught up in his heartfelt plea to be free and will also be drawn into the horrible institution of slavery prevalent in our nation struggling to gain its own freedom from England. As I used to tell my students when I was an elementary school teacher: “Imagine how different the United States would be now if the Founding Fathers had abolished slavery in the Declaration of Independence when they insisted on their own freedom. There would have been no Civil War, and none of the many evil events that occurred in our nation’s history due to the struggle of African Americans to own their own bodies would have happened. America would be a completely different country.”
Through the eyes of Gabriel, the reader witnesses the suffering experienced under slavery. The novel begins with Gabriel's birth on July 4, 1776, an obviously auspicious day for all Americans except those born into slavery. The experiences that lead to Gabriel's eventual need to lead an uprising are told in sparse, occasionally beautiful prose.
Telling the story, rather than showing it, is a violation of one of the most basic rules of writing. It may have been a conscious choice on the author's part. Should a novel written for young adults be explicit in describing the abuse experienced under slavery? Are young adult readers ready to read explicit descriptions of whippings, beatings, and rape? If Amateau's intention was to protect her reader's from the brutality of truth, is she doing a disservice to history? Her audience?
In my mind, the answer is a resounding yes. I read Roots by Alex Haley when I was 15. While I might not go so far as to suggest that a novel written for young adults should be quite as graphic as possible but to gloss over a subject is to not give it due respect and the American history of slavery deserves to be respected and given full weight.
As a result, the novel lacks an emotional strength it could have easily attained with one or even two more honest scenes. It would have shown a justified faith in the audience. Young adults are not merely eager to be treated like adults but are often ready to be treated as such. Reading a novel that treats them with respect will empower them to mature into more sophisticated reading material, giving them the intellectual resources that will carry over into making lifelong decisions.
In the end, this is a good story which lacks emotion, passion, and unrelenting truth.
Most recent customer reviews
Gabriel is a slave that becomes an apprentice for a blacksmith. While he is attempting to make and save money, he is unable to purchase his love.Read more