When Mama told Beverly that Master Jefferson was his father, she called it a secret everybody knew.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
William Beverly Hemings is seven years old when his mother tells him an important secret. Though he is black and a slave now, when he turns 21, he will be free… and white. He, his two younger brothers, and their sister are treated differently from the other slaves at Monticello, but they must never speak of why. As Beverly, then his little brother Madison, and finally their friend Peter Fossett grow up, they each must find their own answers to one big question: Can a man be great and still participate in evil?
The idea that the men who wrote that “all men are created equal” and staked their lives on the formation of a land of freedom owned slaves is a tough one for grown-ups to reconcile, let alone kids. Bradley gives a nuanced look at the lives of two slave families (the Hemingses and the Fossetts) at Monticello as their children puzzle out what it means for one of the fathers of a free country to also be the father of slaves. Its length and its thought-provoking content make it a book for older kids; my library has it cataloged as YA, though I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to an interested fifth-grader. Bradley gets a tiny bit didactic sometimes, but never so strongly that it really distracts from the story. An afterword shares the known facts about the lives of the Hemings family and offers suggestions for further reading.
Solid historical fiction offering a clear window into a murky time.
Checked out from my public library.