4 out of 4 stars
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When the Union army destroyed the Confederate forts of Port Royal Sound on November 7, 1861, white occupants were forced to flee to the mainland, leaving behind their Sea Island Plantations, thousands of slaves, and tons of quality cotton. Some of the enslaved saw the turn of events as a chance to take to their heels with hopes of gaining freedom. On the other hand, Crecie, a slave of Ivy Oaks plantation, struggles with the idea of freedom—a concept that threatens to destabilize her usual routines and place in society. As expected, the government, military, and abolitionists take charge of the islands. Crecie perceives them as ‘new masters’; she compares their authority and commands to those of her previous master because she longs for the orderly routines to which she had become accustomed. When murder, betrayal, and chaos ensue, Crecie is personally affected by the tragedy. Will these events push Crecie to finally break the self-denigrating, white supremacy-upholding shackles of the mind instilled by four generations of enslavement? Will she realize that she need not depend on white authority and recognize her own strengths?
Free to Be, by Gracie L. Chandler, is a riveting historical fiction novel that depicts the psychological effects of years of slavery. Set in the 1860’s during the American Civil War, the narrative gives readers an in-depth view of the politics, events, and culture of the time, as well as the different inner turmoil experienced by the slaves.
Although Crecie is the protagonist and center of the story, I appreciated that the author included other characters who not only share the same struggles but also have different views and aren’t afraid to challenge each other’s perspectives. That is where some of my favorite characters were born, Isham and Randy. I liked that Isham is head-strong and daring, while Randy is intelligent and meticulous. I also liked that they are both independent thinkers in a time where being so could get them killed. While Crecie has a mind of her own, at first, I struggled with her decisions, but as I got to know her, I began to understand her; at times, I would see her perceptions and actions as a form of defense mechanism. With that, her character slowly began to grow on me; thus, I found myself wanting more and more for her to break free from the mental shackles that weigh her down and keep her mentally restrained. An interesting tidbit for me is that despite Crecie being mentally enslaved, she is still a strong woman in her own right.
This novel is hands down one of the best that I’ve read in its genre and category. The level of detail and historical accuracy is impressive; it is clear that the author put in a lot of thought, time, and research into it. Additionally, every detail and the historical characters included are relevant to the plot and seamlessly woven into the narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story and gained much information on the lives of island slaves, abolitionists, the Union, the value of cotton back then, and the politics behind the Civil War.
The level of character development is excellent; I not only got to see the different facets of the characters but also felt as though I watched a number of them grow. The characters are well described and extremely believable, which makes it easy to picture them in their setting. I cared for and even grew attached to the characters and their story that I was sad to see the book end because I was left wanting more. I would love to see the book adapted to film and will definitely keep an eye for more books by Gracie L. Chandler.
In the 351 pages I read of Free to Be, I found a handful of errors only, such as the misuse of the article ‘a’ and other minor errors. I’m sure that these errors were missed typos because the book appeared to be professionally edited. Initially, I had a little difficulty reading the slaves’ dialect because it is a little different from the ones I have heard before, but as I continued reading, I adjusted to it. While searching the meaning of a few words that were new to me, I learned that the vernacular is known as Gullah, or Sea Island Creole English.
I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in learning about the Civil War in a captivating way, especially history buffs. If you are not a fan of narratives that incorporate a multitude of side characters along the main cast, you might want to overlook that for this book because it is nevertheless an interesting read. All in all, the setting, memorable characters, and storyline made for a compelling narrative, which is why I am thrilled to rate this book 4 out of 4 stars.
Free to Be
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