Johah Williams is a slave on a plantation in South Carolina. It’s 1850; well before the Civil War and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He’s Mrs. William’s house slave serving her two children. When the children are taught their lessons, Jonah listens. From those lessons, he teaches himself to read … it was illegal for a slave to read. Mrs. Williams catches him with a book he’d borrowed from their massive library. He thought he’d be beaten. Instead, she arranged for Jonah to read to her from the Bible every day. It was their secret. She even gave him a Bible of his own. This Bible “had letters the size of gnats and hairs. But it was the prettiest book he’d ever seen ….” While Mrs. Williams was away visiting her sister, Jonah was reading in the barn loft. Mr. Williams caught him, accused him of stealing the books, and beat him. It was then that Jonah decided he would seek freedom. That night, he took the jar of coins his mama had collected; a knife from the kitchen; and a hat and headed northward.
When he could, he’d travel by night. When men with guns and dogs were after him, he’d seek water to throw off his scent. After a few nights, he happened onto a ‘Jubilee’. He saw a fire blazing and other Negroes dancing and chanting. It’s there he met Angel. She was also a house slave. The master was using her as his bed warmer. She decided if Jonah could run away, she could run, too. He tried a few times to leave her behind, but she always managed to reappear back in his life.
The character of Jonah was so well-crafted that I could believe he was real as opposed to fictional. He literally traveled by foot, boat, wagon, and train on his journey seeking freedom. The trip was hard not only because he’d be beaten and possibly killed if he were captured and returned to Master Williams, but also because the terrain was perilous and the weather unforgiving. Angel added something very special to this story. As much as Jonah was ‘book smart’, she was ‘street smart’. They complimented each other in ways that Jonah refused to acknowledge. When the synopsis tells us that Angel manages to find Jonah even though he tried to leave her behind, I thought this would be too coincidental to be believable. But it was all very convincing. If you like books in which you can emotionally immerse yourself, you’ll love this story of Jonah’s arduous pursuit of freedom. Rating: 5 out of 5.