cover image TROUBLE DON'T LAST


Shelley Pearsall, . . Knopf, $14.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-375-81490-7

This action-packed, tautly plotted first novel presents a quest for freedom on the Underground Railroad that realistically blends kindness and cruelty. "Trouble follows me like a shadow," begins 11-year-old narrator Samuel. When Harrison, one of the elderly slaves who raised him after the master sold off the boy's mother, decides to run away, Samuel must go with him. "Truth is," Samuel confesses, "even the thought of going straight to Hell didn't scare me as much as the thought of running away." His fears prove justified. Samuel and Harrison's journey thrusts them into uncertainty and peril, and introduces an imaginatively and poignantly rendered cast. Characters include a black man who helps them cross the Ohio River, all the while threatening them with a pistol and a knife if they don't do exactly as he says (he abandons a less cooperative fugitive to certain capture) and a creepy young white widow who converses with her husband's ghost. Throughout, Pearsall seamlessly refers to Samuel's and Harrison's hardships under slavery, creating a sense of lives that extend past the confines of the book. This memorable portrayal of their haphazard, serendipitous and dangerous escape to freedom proves gripping from beginning to end, Ages 9-12. (Jan.)