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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+)"

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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: #3,637,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 Verified Purchase
"The Night I Freed John Brown" captures the essence of youthful bewilderment and its desire to be loved, accepted, understood, and valued.

This is a very compelling story of a teen's experiences in tourist town, Harper's Ferry, WV. Mr. Cummings captures the imagination of Josh as he deals with his unfortunate circumstances of growing up with a father riddled with a bitterness that shows itself in their tattered home. It shares the torment of trying to understand and love a father with a secret he cannot share until events bring the family to an impossible situation that cannot be healed without its unveiling. The story brings moments of laughter, hope, shock, and sorrow as the troubled youth tries desperately to find self worth and acceptance and familial love. It rivets forward as Josh pushes for truth as hard as his father pushes to lock down his secret.
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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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