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Hegamin, Tonya Cherie. Willow. Candlewick, 2014. [384p]. Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-7636-5769-7 $16.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-7636-6770-2 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 7-10.

Willow is a slave on a farm just on the Maryland side of the Mason-Dixon line, where her master, Rev Jeff, is respectful and even kind. Rev Jeff is particularly generous toward Willow and her father, who was reared alongside Rev as a brother and is blood-related to him; in fact, if Rev fails to have children, Willow’s father believes that Willow’s child should rightfully inherit Knotwild, and he seeks to arrange a marriage for Willow. Willow, who can read and write and is not overly taxed due to her delicate health, might not desire freedom, but she definitely does not want to marry the man her father has chosen for her. As both Rev and her father begin to insist more forcefully on her obedience, she meets Cato, a free black man from Pennsylvania, who has felt called to do more than just look out for himself. His efforts to help move “packages” across the Mason-Dixon line have largely failed, but when he meets Willow, he falls in love, and they both have to figure out what [End Page 360] they are willing to sacrifice for love, family, and freedom. This richly textured narrative deftly teases out attitudes that are too often simplified elsewhere. The slaves at Knotwild are neither happy nor complacent in their enslavement, but they each have values and priorities that mitigate open resentment; on the other hand, Rev’s kindness cannot fully redeem his willingness to buy and sell people and deny their full humanity. Cato and Willow do fall in love awfully fast, but there are enough references to Romeo and Juliet to see where that comes from, and Papa’s realization that he has internalized a slave mentality to the point where he is willing to enslave his daughter for his own ends adds provocative gender reflection to an already intelligent story. Hegamin touches on themes rarely treated with such grace and nuance; her combination of history, thoughtful reflection, suspense, and romance will satisfy broad readerly tastes.



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pp. 360-361
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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