Monday, February 6, 2012
Historical Fiction: All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann
Date: April 2011
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Reading time: two days
Margaret Morgan grew up a free black woman in Maryland. Now married, living with her husband and three children on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Margaret is living a happy life - until one day in 1837, she and her children are kidnapped and taken back to Maryland to be sold as slaves. But Margaret fights back, first by taking her kidnapper to court and then by small steps in her new life. Her story also becomes the jumpstart to the states' rights controversy in the Supreme Court ruling of Prigg vs. Pennsylvania, a ruling which precluded the bitter conflicts that would begin the Civil War.
I made a mistake reading this right after the magnificent writing in The Printmaker's Daughter, because half of what I could think about the entire time I was reading All Different Kinds of Free was how much better Katherine Govier's writing is. McCann is still a decent writer, but I felt like the actual character of Margaret Morgan could have been developed more. She came off as surprisingly naïve at times, given that she read Emerson and similar authors and was really a very intelligent woman. Also, I noticed several punctuation errors and inconsistant spellings in my copy of the book, which appeared to be a finished copy.
My pet peeves aside, I did appreciate the history presented in this novel. The court case was an interesting precursor to the states' rights issues that would split the country in the coming decades, while Margaret's side of the story provided an in-depth look at slavery from an unusual perspective. I wouldn't say the book was enjoyable, because, as books on slavery often go, the subject is a tough one to read about. McCann does an excellent job presenting the hardships and injustice of slaves' lives, and readers can instantly connect on an emotional level to the heart-wrenching traumas faced by Margaret and her family. Despite its other shortcomings, All Different Kinds of Free was an affecting and educational read.