Author: Walter Mosely
Publisher: New York: Little Brown, 2005
Classification: Young Adult Fiction
Genre: Historical fiction
Topics: slavery, SciFi, friendship
Media Type: Book
Reader's annotation: Slave #47, a young boy doomed to picking cotton until he dies, meets Tall John, a mysterious stranger claiming to come from a different planet. Together they find new meanings to the concept of freedom.
Summary: There were 98 slaves on the Corinthian Plantation, each named by their number. When one died another just took its place. This is the story of a young boy as he takes position 47 under a cruel slave master in pre-Civil War south, doomed to work in the cotton fields for his entire life. Having been raised by one of the kitchen slaves and allowed to live in relative luxury in the barn his transition to the hard labor of cotton picking was difficult. One day, Tall John, shows up on the plantation. The reader understands him to be a runaway slave but he spins a tale of supernatural powers and tells 47 he was sent there to help him. Tall John is welcomed into the slave community and works with them in the fields. There is a bit of magic around Tall John as he entertains, encourages, and brings confidence and self-worth to the slaves as they toil in the fields. What I took as to be the imagination of 47 in a historical setting as he recounted the almost magical things that led them to rebellion, other reviewers have called science fiction. Tall John does do things and has special healing powers that don’t seem to be able to be explained. The mix between the two genres, historical and science fiction is interesting and casts a surreal quality to the story.
Evaluation: This is a different take on a Southern plantation slave story than I have seen before. There are some very graphic sections of the cruelty, something that made me squeamish but I bet teens would love it. You will find themselves thinking about statements Tall John made long after the story is finished.
- I grew up outside of Boston, went to college in western MA and lived in NYC dancing for several years before getting my teaching credentials and unintentionally moving to Santa Cruz CA. Married and divorced with two kids almost grown, a daughter in college and a son in high school, I am thrilled to be a librarian now, something that I should have done years ago. I love the applications of technology and realize that I have been interested in that since my first computer class back in 1986 - a new requirement for teaching degrees. Finally I can combine my love of curriculum, educational resources, working with adults and children, and technology applications.