Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Come Juneteenth

I was unprepared for how serious Come Juneteenth was. For years, I've seen Ann Rinaldi's novels and assumed they were adolescent historical romances. I was completely wrong and look forward to reading more of her work, because she presented an interesting and educational story in an unexpected way.

The novel centers on one family's experiences leading up to Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when Texas slaves received their freedom, a full two years after the rest of the confederacy. The narrator, Luli Holcomb, is the daughter of slave owners and is raised alongside Sis Goose, a slave who has been adopted into the family. Although they love Sis Goose (particularly older brother Gabe), they keep her emancipation a secret. But when the union army arrives, the revelation of her freedom has devastating consequences.

It was a bold decision to tell the story from the perspective of the slaveowners, particularly in a sympathetic way. Luli knows it is wrong to hide the truth, but rationalizes it by citing potential financial ruin without people to work in the fields. As Luli said, "Did it matter? we asked ourselves.  Who would be hurt with a couple of more months in bondage?" (89) The answer: everyone.

Come Juneteenth did not give me one thing I wanted: Sis Goose's point of view. While she is central to the story, she remains elusive. Rinaldi missed an opportunity to share how Sis Goose felt upon learning of her family's betrayal. Luli's moral issues are thoughtfully explained, I would have liked for Sis Goose to have the same chance.

I posted the two covers because I read the version on the right, but prefer the cover on the left. I think that Sis Goose on the left looks more like I imagined, and has the serious expression that the subject matter deserves.

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