cover image Bright Freedom's Song: A Story of the Underground Railroad

Bright Freedom's Song: A Story of the Underground Railroad

Gloria Houston. Harcourt Children's Books, $17 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201812-2

Houston's (Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree) preface and afterword emphasize several facts and convictions that inform her at times ponderous novel: chiefly, she sees a connection between the experience of indentured servants in this country and their willingness, once freed, to help slaves escape. Bright, the heroine of her novel, is the daughter of one such former servant, Charles Cameron. Charles fled a cruel master (long before the story opens in 1853) with the help of a fellow worker, Marcus, an African sold into slavery. Marcus has safely crossed into Canada, but he returns periodically to the Camerons' North Carolina farm, a safe house on the Underground Railroad, to act as a guide to escaping slaves. Despite significant doses of stiff dialogue designed to impart historical details and weigh moral issues, Houston shapes an affecting family portrait. At its heart is Bright's growing awareness of her parents' dangerous work. There are some sad, and sadly realistic, moments here: Bright finds a half-dead slave--younger than she--who was attacked by his master's dogs, and later she learns that he and his master's daughter, who had run away with him, have been caught and killed. But she also works in some unlikely coincidences, including an incident straight out of The Sound of Music (Toby, a former apprentice of Cameron's with whom Bright has had a flirtation, is one of the Confederate soldiers who stops Bright and Marcus as they drive escaped slaves to freedom; Toby vouches for them). Despite its weak spots, this novel effectively illuminates relatively obscure but intriguing angles of American history. Ages 10-up. (Oct.)