cover image Martha and the Slave Catchers

Martha and the Slave Catchers

Harriet Hyman Alonso, illus. by Elizabeth Zunon. Triangle Square, $17.95 (220p) ISBN 978-1-60980-800-6

Alonso’s suspenseful tale of headstrong Martha Bartlett, daughter of abolitionists in a Connecticut town in the 1850s, explores the Underground Railroad, the lucrative kidnapping of free blacks in northern states to be slaves in the south, and questions of racial and cultural identity. The recently passed Fugitive Slave Law puts Martha’s younger brother, Jake, in potential danger: Jake was secretly born to an escaped slave, who died in childbirth in Martha’s home four years earlier. Martha’s family is raising the light-skinned and troublesome boy (he would today be identified as on the autism spectrum) as their own. In 1854, the family’s fears come true when Jake is taken; Martha, who believes it was her fault, becomes fixated on rescuing him. That she is allowed to be part of the rescue mission stretches credulity, as does her naiveté and consistent rule breaking. Adult author Alonso keeps her danger-filled plot moving, but the language is often flat and predictable (at a particularly perilous moment readers learn that “Martha’s experience with rivers was not great”). Zunon’s stark b&w drawings appear throughout. Ages 8–12. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Nov.)