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Grade 6-10–Esteemed adult mystery writer Walter Mosley has written a compelling story (Little, 2005) for young adults about life on a Georgia plantation in 1832, including a futuristic interpretation of the slave trickster tale, High John the Conqueror. The late actor Ossie Davis narrates with authority in his distinctive, rich baritone, imparting dignity and vivacity to each of the characters using subtle changes in his gravelly voice. Slaves often didn't have real names, but were called by their assigned numbers. A slight boy of 14, Forty-seven is sent to live in the slave quarters and to work in the cotton fields after having lived under the protection of another slave since he was orphaned at birth. Forty-seven meets and becomes friends with a young runaway slave, Tall John, whose constant refrain to the teen is neither master nor nigger be. Tall John explains that he came from another world in a sun ship hundreds of years ago to find 47, who is destined to save the world. After the plantation owner's daughter falls ill, Tall John convinces him that he can find herbs in the woods to save her. When they take too long to return, a fight ensues and harsh punishments are meted out. Subsequently, Tall John and and Forty-seven try to organize an escape to freedom. Mosley brilliantly documents the day-to-day life of slaves. The story is built on the themes of friendship, loyalty, freedom, and responsibility. Where it seems to falter and become confusing is in the futuristic plot of other worlds and battles to come. Perhaps that hints at a sequel and might be a good hook for young adults. A good listen for those who want a solid historical fiction story about American slavery, and for fans of Nancy Farmer and Gary Paulsen's Nightjohn and Transall Saga.–Jo-Ann Carhart, East Islip Public, NY
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Gr. 7-10. In his first YA book, acclaimed mystery writer Mosley tells a stirring story of escape from slavery in which sf and African American myth blend with the realism of plantation brutality and the courage of resistance. A boy today remembers himself as a 14-year-old slave named 47, living in Georgia in 1832. He recalls being chained, branded, and whipped until the runaway Tall John inspires him to fulfill his destiny and lead his people to freedom. Like the mythical figure High John the Conqueror, the runaway comes from "beyond Africa," and he shows the boy the secrets of the universe. Above all, 47 takes in Tall John's repeated lesson ("Neither master nor nigger be"), which is finally what sets him free. The magical realism allows for some plot contrivance, but Mosley brings the harsh facts and anguish very close, and the first-person narrative shows and tells how "slavery is the most unbelievable part of this whole story." Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.