Unbound: A Novel in Verse
But the more Grace sees of the heartless Master and hateful Missus, the more a rightiness voice clamors in her head-asking how come white folks can own other people, sell them on the auction block, and separate families forever. When that voice escapes without warning, it sets off a terrible chain of events that prove Uncle Jim's words true. Suddenly, Grace and her family must flee deep into the woods, where they brave deadly animals, slave patrollers, and the uncertainty of ever finding freedom.
With candor and compassion, Ann E. Burg sheds light on a startling chapter of American history--the remarkable story of runaways who sought sanctuary in the Great Dismal Swamp--and creates a powerful testament to the right of every human to be free.
Historical Novel-In-Verse for MG readers
All her life, Grace has been told the rules she must follow to survive: keep eyes down, keep mouth shut, etc. When she is taken to work in the Big House, she realizes more and more the reasoning behind those rules. One day, Grace learns her family will be even further separated because of the Master, and she sets out to stop it from happening. Together, she and her family brave the dangerous swamps to find a way to freedom.
What I Liked:
I truly adore novels told in verse, and middle grade readers who enjoy quick reads may want to consider this one. Grace is a strong main character, someone who loves her family but is trapped in a society that doesn’t see her as even human. I particularly like the interactions between her and her mother for their warmth.
Prior to reading this, I did not know much about the Great Dismal Swamp and what people endured to use it as a sanctuary of sort. Readers interested in lesser known historical detail will be eager for more information on the swamp after seeing Grace and her family go through it on their own.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Given the rich number of stories about slavery, this one doesn’t add much to the canon beyond the lesser known element of the swamps. Sadly, this makes Unbound an overall forgettable book. Collections will likely be better served with works from Virginia Hamilton, Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, and Julius Lester.
Beautiful, Moving, Hopeful
When Grace is called up to the Big House to work for the Master and the Missus, she has to leave her family behind. Already prone to voicing her thoughts of “rightiness,” Grace struggles to keep them quiet as she encounters the direct abuse of the Master and Missus. Eventually, she cannot keep her rightiness to herself, and her family are suddenly in danger of being sold at an auction. They must escape into the nearby swamps avoiding both paddyrollers and deadly animals.
Burg’s characters are richly textured, and she gives us a protagonist who is sensitive and strong. Readers will connect with Grace’s fierce sense of justice and love for her family. They will grieve, fear, and hope with Grace as she and her family pursue a freedom fraught with dangers.
Equally memorable, however, are the settings Burg portrays—the slave cabins, the Big House, the Great Dismal Swamp. Her author’s note and acknowledgements confirm the extensive research she did in order to write the book, but her text speaks for itself, and the world she describes feels tragically real.
Burg’s writing is poignant and poetic, and is carried by the voices of her characters. This novel in verse is likely to become a staple in classrooms and libraries across the country. I cannot recommend it highly enough.