In post-Reconstruction Georgia, Cy has befriended Travis, the white son of the volatile landowner for whom he and his father sharecrop. When Travis tries to run away, Cy tries to help, but he is instead implicated in Travis’ drowning death. Cy is captured, blindfolded, and taken far away, where he spends the next several years in a forced labor camp, chained almost 24 hours a day. Amidst the reprehensible conditions and constructs of the chain gang, Cy contemplates the nature of life, death, God, and friendship as he struggles to weigh the hefty risk of escaping into freedom versus his eventual but certain death in bondage. Cy’s and the other boys’ backstories offer a rich picture of the time. Cy’s narrative is harrowing, and even so, it likely takes it easy on the descriptions of the deplorable conditions in the for-profit labor camps in which young “offenders” were kept often for no other reason than being black. Not for the faint of heart, but a thought-provoking, valuable look at an overlooked episode in American history. Grades 7-10. --Heather Booth
"Full of emotionally charged depictions of brutality, physical abuse, and prejudice, Dudley's third historical novel is a tough and painful read. Dudley's use of dialect helps immerse readers in the injustice of the story, as he risks everything in the name of freedom."
"A ferociously well-paced book. . . Dudley invites a hard look at each individual's understanding of freedom, justice, and responsibility. It is a slanting truth across over a century in which much—and little—has changed."
—VOYA, 5Q 4P J S
"Life in the chain gang is relentlessly oppressive, violent, and heartbreaking. Cy's transformation from innocence to anger and, finally, with the support of his friends, to a leader willing to take risks is compelling."
—School Library Journal