________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 22. . . .February 13, 2015


The Gospel Truth.

Caroline Pignat.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2014.
327 pp., trade pbk., ePub & pdf, $12.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-88995-493-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55244-362-0 (ePub), ISBN 978-1-55244-349-1 (pdf).

Subject Heading:
Underground Railroad-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Lisa Doucet.

**** /4



Tracking her through the dense wood,
I come to a clearing.
In the center stands the trunk of a long dead tree
stripped of bark and branch,
smooth and hollowed with time.
At its base sits Phoebe:
legs crossed,
arm out like a slender branch,
hand cupped like a small brown nest.

A tiny bird flits between the tree and her hand:
Eastern Phoebe.
Common, really.
And yet, in the dappled light of the lush wood,
I consider the bird,
the girl,
the moment.

Rare Phoebe sightings:
the wary bird, so at ease around a human.
the nervous girl, so at home in the wood.

The bird sings.
The girl smiles.
And I realize,
I have never seen anything
so beautiful.


Life on a Virginia plantation is all that 16-year-old Phoebe has ever known. Although she has never been a field slave doing back-breaking work in the blazing hot sun, she is a slave, nonetheless, a silent servant to Master Duncan’s daughter, Miss Tessa. She has watched her friends and peers be whipped and beaten; she has endured the mistresses’ fiery hatred; she has suffered the agony of losing her momma when the Master sold her away. Since the day that she lost her mother, Phobe has never uttered a single word. But she watches and she listens. And she learns. In secret she learns to read, knowing that it is strictly forbidden yet daring to hope that one day it will enable her to find her mother.

      Then Dr. Bergman comes to the plantation to study the local birds, and Phoebe is assigned to be his guide. Miss Tessa sets her sights on the handsome stranger, but he has his sights set on other goals. When Dr. “Birdman” seeks Phoebe’s help, she is frightened and uncertain. Life has taught her to never trust a white man: can this white man be any different? As various secrets come to light, choices are made, hearts are broken, and events are set in motion that will change a number of lives forever.

     Stunning and heartbreaking, this poignant novel in verse is a searing portrait of a time and place, 1858 on a southern tobacco plantation where the Master struggles to hold on to the legacy that his family has built, and he and his beautiful young daughter truly believe that their slaves are “not people…they’re negroes.” In poetry that is spare and beautiful, Pignat carefully, exquisitely depicts the reality of that time and of those lives. Here, the things that are left unsaid are as powerful as the harsh and simple truths that are clearly stated. The verse format serves this story well in Pignat’s hands. In addition to using this format, she has also chosen to tell the story from multiple perspectives, providing an even more nuanced and multifaceted perspective. Readers are able to see how differently these individuals interpret truth, and even freedom; how each one – in their own way – struggles to do what they perceive to be the right thing; how each person’s secrets, hopes and dreams are part of a larger picture. The Gospel Truth is an intricately and beautifully woven story whose characters are vividly and authentically depicted. Each voice is succinctly captured, and the story that the author tells is a realistic rendering of a piece of history that reveals timeless truths about humanity and the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

Highly Recommended.

Lisa is Co-Manager of Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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