Tag Archives: slavery

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am struggling to write this review in the same way I struggled to read the book. I am torn between tremendous admiration for the author’s creativity and thorough research and my grudging admission that the novel failed to truly transport me the way a five-star novel should. Whitehead’s unflinching portrayal of the savage inhumanity of American slavery is an important if not entertaining read. He manages to pack it all in, from slave ships, to depraved plantation owners, to medical experimentation and sterilization, to sadistic slave catchers. His overlay of magical realism by employing an actual, physical underground railroad to transport slaves from the deep south to the free north is brilliant. The writing is well-crafted and the pace is swift. Despite all of this, I had to push my way through this book, and my hesitation wasn’t solely attributable to the harsh and violent realities it portrayed. I agree with other reviewers who felt they were kept at a remove from characters, either because they were underdeveloped or because the story was told in the third person. I felt the nonfiction objective of this book overpowered the fictional structure it was built upon. It was as though Whitehead wanted construct a complete litany of the abuses associated with this nation’s heritage of slavery more than he wanted to tell a compelling story. The story was a vehicle for the litany. A well crafted vehicle, for sure, but not really a five-star novel. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Student Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (reviewed by Yuval L.)

The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered by many to be amongst the finest American novels. The novel relates the story of teenager, Huck Finn, and a runaway slave named Jim, who sail a raft down the Mississippi River. Both of these characters seek freedom in different ways. Their journey in some respect alludes to the adventurous development of a young American nation in its quest for freedom.
Huck runs away from his abusive father who is trying to get his hands on a treasure he found. His father kidnapped him but he does not return home, because it was starting to get “rough living in the [widow’s] house all the time” (2). Huck’s quest to escape from civilized society may be viewed as an analogy to the American break from the rigid social structure of Europe. In some way, this trip down the Mississippi River can be analogous to the American movement for independence and freedom. Just like the colonials, Huck escapes civilized life by going into unknown territory. This may be one reason that this book has become so popular.

Like many of its contemporary American classics, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reflects an anti-racist spirit. Huck’s companion for the trip, a runaway slave, is also seeking freedom. In some strange way, they found freedom by process of seeking it. The final destination of their trip is not as important as the actual time and experience Huck and Jim share on the raft. Their day to day is unpredictable, and they are accountable to no one. Life on the raft is free. I would recommend this book to anybody who enjoys reading the classics. ~ Student: Yuval L.

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The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead, by Paul Elwork

The Girl Who Would Speak for the DeadThe Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead by Paul Elwork

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The two stars might be slightly unfair, since as a work of literary fiction the book might deserve three. The one point deduction is for the cover and the title, which clearly signal “scary story.” This is not scary, it is sad. It is slow. It is somewhat boring. Set in 1925 on a sprawling estate with a mysterious past, the story revolves around bored and somewhat neglected 13-year-old twins Emily and Michael, whose father was killed in WWI and whose mother appears to be grieving and is therefore emotionally unavailable to her children. Emily discovers a bizarre talent in which she can crack her ankle and the source of the sound appears to be coming from elsewhere. She and her manipulative brother dupe neighborhood children into believing that Emily can communicate with a dead ancestor by cracking her ankle in response to mock seance questions — one crack for no, two for yes. What starts as a fairly innocent children’s game starts to expand in ways that make Emily uncomfortable and Michael indulge in visions of grandeur. Elkin succeeds in creating a dark and mysterious backdrop for the story, but fails to produce the chills you might expect with a book of this title. I came away disappointed and a little depressed. You have been warned. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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Student Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (reviewed by Katie R.)

The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The true definition of friendship is not based on the color of your skin or social class, but instead on what you share in common. Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is about friendship and adventure between Huck, a young runaway who lives with his aunts, and Jim, a slave on Huck’s family farm. Huck and Jim run away from society by traveling down the Mississippi River, both hiding their identities so they won’t get caught. What makes this novel interesting is how they deal with their hardships they encounter along their journey. One of which is where they abandon their raft to avoid getting hit from a steamship. By doing this, Jim and Huck are forced to give up their housing and transportation for the sake of their survival. Throughout the book, superstition comes up frequently because Jim is very superstitious and believes everything that happens is a sign. For example, “Jim said you musn’t count the things you are going to cook for dinner, because that would bring bad luck. The same if you shook the tablecloth after sundown” (55). Jim believes that everything he does has a meaning and consequence following it. In the end Jim is free from slavery and Huck is free, turning down many offers of a family. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys adventure, friendship and slight humor. ~ Student: Katie R.

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