Melitte

Fatima Shaik, Author Dial Books $15.99 (160p) ISBN 978-0-8037-2106-7
The voices of childhood are remarkably absent from Shaik's first book for young readers, an earnest tale of the hardship and love shared by two girls in 18th-century Louisiana. Melitte, the narrator, is slave to a pair of poor French-born farmers who work her hard and make her care for their new baby, Marie. The kind but demanding Monsieur stays the violent hand of the unredeemedly petty and vicious Madame. Few readers will be surprised to discover he is not only the heroine's owner but her father as well. Melitte and Marie sense their sisterhood from the start, and the former finds herself torn between the desire for freedom and her loyalty to the child she has raised. Marie, for her part, is extraordinarily self-sacrificing and, like Melitte, speaks with such ethical surety readers will feel the author proselytizing through her. Belief in a Christian God is a major source of solace for the characters, and while the message that slavery is wrong and dehumanizing cannot be argued with, its constant and flat reiteration gives the work the flavor of a moral tract: ""The slave owners act as if they can control lives,"" Melitte says, ""lives that were created only by God."" Even the author's talent for description and skillfully researched historical details (e.g., the use of gospel songs to communicate a slave's escape plans) don't juice up the narrative--those in search of a vivid drama on a similar subject would do better with Jennifer Armstrong's Steal Away. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Children's
Paperback - 147 pages - 978-0-14-130420-5
Prebound-Other - 147 pages - 978-0-613-23018-6
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-18432-8
Hardcover - 125 pages - 978-1-105-53193-4
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