- Cy in Chains by David L. Dudley
The Civil War may be over, but thirteen-year-old Cy realizes too late that he should have taken to heart his father’s advice dating back to slave times: “The black man must never get in the middle of white folks’ business.” When Cy agrees to help track down his white friend Travis Strong, who has run away from his abusive father, Travis’ father finds them both, Travis makes a break and drowns in the river, and Cy is left with all the blame. Mr. Strong hires two neighbors to capture Cy and deliver him to the owner of a chain gang who rents out convicts and extra-legal abductees for hard labor. Four years later, Cy is a heart-hardened young man who resists forming bonds of friendship, or even cooperation, with his fellow laborers. As the brutality of their captivity escalates and clandestine relationships between owner and workers are revealed, Cy joins the camp cook in a plot to murder their captors and free all boys willing to risk flight. Violence, drug addiction, racial slurs, and rape are all realistic elements in the tale, and the candor with which this dark material is dealt demands a more mature audience than the dialogue-heavy, accessibly written text might otherwise suggest. Any reader gripped by the atrocities of Jim Crow will be moved by Cy’s tragedy, but keep this in mind as well for teens whose desire for sophisticated content outstrips reading ability.