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Grade 7-10–The intense, personal slave narrative of 14-year-old Forty-seven becomes allegorical when a mysterious runaway slave shows up at the Corinthian Plantation. Tall John, who believes there are no masters and no slaves, and who carries a yellow carpet bag of magical healing potions and futuristic devices, is both an inspiration and an enigma. He claims he has crossed galaxies and centuries and arrived by Sun Ship on Earth in 1832 to find the one chosen to continue the fight against the evil Calash. The brutal white overseer and the cruel slave owner are disguised Calash who must be defeated. Tall John inserts himself into Forty-seven's daily life and gradually cedes to him immortality and the power, confidence, and courage to confront the Calash to break the chains of slavery. With confidence, determination, and craft, Tall John becomes Forty-seven's alter ego, challenging him and inspiring him to see beyond slavery and fight for freedom. Time travel, shape-shifting, and intergalactic conflict add unusual, provocative elements to this story. And yet, well-drawn characters; lively dialogue filled with gritty, regional dialect; vivid descriptions; and poignant reflections ground it in harsh reality. Older readers will find the blend of realism, escapism, and science fiction intriguing.–Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
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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
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