Friday, November 28, 2014

(45) MG Historical Fiction: FREEDOM BOYS

TITLE: Freedom Boys
GENRE: MG Historical Fiction

After a perilous journey in 1848 from slavery in Mississippi to freedom in Liberia, thirteen-year-old Granville Woodson seeks an education, a real home, and a peaceful life without whippings and lynch mobs. When his friends die from the African Fever, he must battle his fear of snakes and critters, white men, and the indigenous people to search for medicine in the forest to save his sick mother and best friend.

A shiver shoots down my spine. Above me, owls hoot back and forth, regular as a tick-tock. As the sun rises, a dust devil whips up from the big house ruins and floats across the garden through Master's cemetery. It's coming direct at me and Gibson in the woods, swirling and sucking in more leaves till it's taller than a pillar. I grasp the rabbit's foot real tight--not that I'm scared or nothing.

When the dust devil smashes against an oak tree, it scatters bits clear over the slave cemetery. My stomach twists.

Gibson hops as if a ghost is blowing hot breath on his soles. "Granville, what're you waitin' for? Grab them belongings!"

"It's my fault y'all won't be leaving with us for Liberia. Please forgive me." I pluck up a string of cowry shells, a piece of gleaming plate, a ring carved from a horn, and a brass amulet from my friends' graves. "May God help y'all rest in peace, Amen." I scoop up a handful of cemetery dirt, in case of trouble.

We race downhill, cutting across the fields where the cotton bolls languish. Gibson lags behind me. I stop dead in my tracks and shout out, "Can't you run faster?"

A dog howls in the woods.

Brownie! That's trouble all right. Most nights, Mr. Stampley, the overseer, keeps the bloodhound tied up behind his cabin. By the time Gibson stumbles next to me, the barking's louder than my thumping heart.


  1. I really like the premise of this and i love that the story opens with Granville and Gibson stealing grave goods from their friends and then running.
    I think the opening few paragraphs could use some work, though.
    The first sentence is "A shiver shoots down my spine," but because we're not grounded, we don't really know what that relates to. I assume he's scared, but until i got farther down, i assumed he was afraid of the dust devil that appears a few sentences later. I also wasn't really clear where Granville was, not until he takes the grave goods.
    I hope this helps some, and good luck in the auction!

  2. You've established a lot of character here, and the description is lovely. The details of heading for Liberia and that Mr. Stampley is the overseer felt forced-- for the sake of the reader, not true to the moment. You might consider letting those details appear later, more natuarlly.

  3. I agree with the above comments. The premise for this is really interesting, and I love the descriptions of the setting. I love that you insert us right into the story; I feel the tension immediately and am sucked right into the spooky setting.

    I wonder if I hadn't read the logline if I'd have been as confused. I started reading expecting the story to start in Liberia, and was confused as to why there'd be a Master's Cemetery there or why there'd be a big plantation home in ruins there.

    I think a couple of details here and there to tell us where we are would be all you need.

    Also, I felt that the first paragraph read more like a second. I was fascinated by the dust devil and loved how it brought us through the property, but I agree with the commenter above about the first line, "a shiver shoots down my spine." I don't think it quite fits right there.

    I love historical fiction, though, and would pick this up in a heartbeat.

    Good luck!

  4. Really fascinating premise, although there does seem an awful lot of story stuffed in there, and I wonder how long this book is (too long for an MG?). It also sounds pretty heavy-going for MG - even though your MC is only 13, I expect he acts older after what he's been through and goes through during the story. Anyway, you can leave it up to publishers to decide if it skews older.

    The first page is excellent, with lots of brilliant details and intrigue, but I had to reread it three or four times to understand exactly what was happening and where they were. Especially if this is going to be MG, I think you need to make this all much clearer. But the content and atmosphere and the writing on a sentence by sentence level is really good. I also think this would be more compelling if we knew right away that he was a slave running away - it provides instant suspense and it would be a shame to lose that in other details.

    With a bit of rejigging and clarifying I think this'll be fantastic, good luck :)

  5. Hi there!

    Fabulous premise.

    To me, this opening is a touch disjointed.

    The style and pace of the description doesn't really have enough urgency, given the moment. I think it could be more powerful if the style really matched the intensity of what was happening with this storm. Right now while Granville's voice is distinct, his tone

    And from the logline, what he goes through is anything but safe. So just be aware of the correlation between what is being said and HOW it's being said.

    I might consider grounding us much more immediately in the graveyard, since that's an instantly evocative setting. The descriptions of the weather, while well done, don't really plunge us into something concrete.


  6. I agree with all the previous comments. In addition, it wasn't clear to me that the things he'd picked up were from individual graves until I read the comments above! I thought he'd dropped his own things. If there's a tradition of leaving items on graves we might need to be told that. I do like your writing.

  7. I agree with Victoria in regard to setting us firmly in the graveyard, for the same reasons she gave. Perhaps even show, in more detail, him taking the grave goods as the dust devil arrives.

    What's lacking here, I think, is tone and mood. I don't feel the dust devil, I don't feel the danger they're in at the end, I don't feel their fear. Maybe add more vivid descriptions and bring a sense of urgency to what they're doing.

  8. Wow, what a fascinating topic. The premise really intrigues me - I can't think of another book for this age level about a post-slavery return to Africa, and I think this topic will really intrigue readers.

    The logline confused me a bit in that it covered a LOT of ground, and as a result, I was also confused about what was happening when I started the sample. I assumed that the story would start in Liberia, rather than with the escape from slavery, as it read as though the escape was backstory. If the first part of the book is about the escape, I would keep your pitch's focus there. I also worry that since the book has these two distinct arcs, there's no overall arc tying them together. I would hint at Granville's character arc a little more, as I think that's probably the thread that will connect these two plotlines.

    I also agree that the tone here didn't completely match the content. Granville as a narrator feels a bit passive and calm, but since he's in great danger, I wished the passage had read with more urgency and suspense. Though the dust devil description is lovely imagery, I wonder if cutting it down would help pick up the pace and keep the focus more on the risk Granville is taking in this moment.

    There's so much potential in this idea. Good luck!

  9. I love the voice in this!

    I wasn't sure who the MC was apologizing to. Maybe you could include something like - I looked at the crosses stuck in the ground. "It's my fault y'all won't be leaving with us for Liberia...

    There are several good comments listed. Use what feels right and ignore the rest. Mine included.

    Good luck!

  10. Interesting and unusual setting choice. I was puzzled about this line: "It's my fault y'all won't be leaving with us for Liberia. Please forgive me." until I realized that he was probably addressing his dead relatives or friends.