CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 12 . . . . February 17, 2006
The Freedom of Jenny.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2005.
182 pp., pbk., $12.95.
African Americans-British Columbia-Fiction.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Michelle Superle.
Maybe it was the way everyone averted their eyes or maybe it was Momma's sad countenance, but by the time Jenny and Joseph rushed forward and threw their arms around [their father's] big body, the wide grin on his face had been replaced by a puzzled questioning expression.
Momma didn't hurry forward to greet him. Rather, she moved heavily through the crowd, never taking her eyes off his face. He opened his arms and she fell into them, oblivious to everyone around them. The Leopolds would never approve of such a display of affection. ‘Thank God you've returned safely,' she murmured, and then she couldn't hold it back any longer and she started to cry. Jenny had never seen her momma cry, and it broke her heart.
The Freedom of Jenny is one part Underground Railway, one part “Little House” and one part pure Canadian. This straightforward tale for young readers chronicles the life of Jenny Estes from early childhood to marriage. Its simple diction and easy chronological development make the story accessible to many readers. Its subject, the exodus of black slaves first to the American West and then to Western Canada, and ultimately Salt Spring Island, makes the story fascinating. There is something new for everyone to learn in The Freedom of Jenny.
Jenny is a multi-faceted character whose interests become the reader's. We experience her struggles and wishes vividly as the story progresses. The dynamics of Jenny's family are also captivating, particularly after her mother's death. Not only does this short novel explore an interesting historical quirk, it is also firmly rooted in human psychology and family life.
While The Freedom of Jenny lacks any significant sparkle, it is very competently organized and written. Julie Burtinshaw has done a wonderful job of exposing a little-known historical event and showing how one of British Columbia's most treasured cultural sites, Salt Spring Island, began as a Black frontier community. Because of this, The Freedom of Jenny deserves a place in every library in British Columbia, perhaps Canada.
Michelle Superle is a graduate of UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program. She teaches Children's Literature and Composition at the University College of the Fraser Valley.
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