cover image Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave

Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave

Virginia Hamilton. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $11.95 (193pp) ISBN 978-0-394-88185-0

Hamilton roundly accomplishes what must have been a formidable task: reconstructing the life of a slave, Anthony Burns, for his story was mostly unrecorded when he was young, and his later years were scrupulously observed in court transcripts and newspapers. From the available facts the Newbery Medalist has written a biography of grace and depth, about a man who became a symbol for abolitionists in 1854 in Boston when he was tried under the Fugitive Slave Act. He was sent back to the South, but his trial propelled the writ of habeus corpus into law. Hamilton intersperses phases of the trial with speculative chapters on Burns's youth and gives readers a portrait of a devout man who could do little except strive for freedomit was never far from his mind. The carnival-like atmosphere that surrounded the trial is painted with detailed strokes; rather than invoking a morality lesson, Hamilton lets her characters' motives and actions arise from their humanity, or from their blindness. And in doing so, this moving story becomes all the more scathing and rich for being rooted in truth. Ages 10-up. (June)