A few months after Congress ratified the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, life for Patsy, a freed girl, hasn't changed a great deal. She still lives on the plantation where she was raised since infancy and works in the house of her former master and mistress. Patsy is thought to be dim-witted by all those around her, because she has a stutter and walks with a limp. Little do they know that Patsy secretly taught herself to read and write by dusting the library while the children of the house were receiving their lessons. She still sneaks into the library every chance she gets to read her favorite books. With emancipation official, the Freedmen's Bureau is promising that teachers will come and a real school will open on the plantation to educate the black children. Patsy eagerly waits for that day to come, while many of the people she has known all her life begin leaving in search of a better life elsewhere. As more time passes and no teacher arrives, Patsy's best friend, Ruth, begins to talk of leaving too, so that she can find a school for her young son. To keep that from happening, Patsy will need to find the courage to tell everyone that she isn't slow like they thought, and that she could teach them what she knows until a real teacher can be found.
Being a lover of history and historical fiction, I've been very excited about trying out the Dear America series for quite some time. Since all the books are written by different authors, I'm not sure how they compare to this one, but I was very pleased with my first foray into the series. I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly chronicles the life of a freed slave girl a few months after emancipation was voted into law. I was pretty sure the book was a work of fiction, but the author did such a good job with making the story believable that I had a few moments of doubt until reading the historical notes at the end which confirmed that it was. Patsy was a sweet, lovely, and very relatable character to read about. She is only about twelve or thirteen when the story open, and to the outside world she isn't much to look at. In addition to being an orphan, Patsy is painfully shy because of a severe stuttering problem, and she also walks with a pronounced limp. Inside though, she is a very brave and strong girl who secretly taught herself how to read and write during a time when the punishment for doing so could have been extremely severe. I really like how Patsy grew a lot throughout the story and became braver and more readily able to speak as time went on. She also takes so much joy and comfort from her reading that when she reads aloud, her stutter all but disappears. I really liked how the author put emphasis on the importance of literacy by showing how much it means to Patsy.
Through reading I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly, I was able to learn some things about what life was like for freed slaves. I found it interesting that their day to day lives weren't all that different after emancipation than they were before it, with the exception that they were now getting paid, albeit very low wages, for the work they were doing. Many of the former slaves from the plantation where Patsy lived left immediately, hoping to buy land of their own or find better work in the cities. Many stayed behind to become sharecroppers or to continue working as servants. There were conflicted feelings among them, and even in Patsy's mind, as to whether it was better to go or stay, and there were certainly positives and negatives to both sides of the coin. It was very interesting to learn about all of this, and the author's historical notes at the end of the book also helped to put things in perspective.
I don't believe I have ever read a book in diary format before, so I don't know if this is a typical example of a book written in that style or not. The one downside I found about this style, at least in the case of this book, is that it could be rather repetitive at times. For example: Every Monday is wash day; nearly every Tuesday the freed slaves have a Union League meeting where they discuss their rights and read the newspapers; nearly every Sunday they meet in the arbor for worship services. There is some variation in each of these entries, so it didn't bother me overmuch, but I could see how this could become tedious to kids who might be reading it. There were also a lot of characters to keep track of, and I found myself forgetting who various people were on occasion, which would probably mean that kids might have trouble with this too. I think the author's purpose was to show how lonely Patsy felt as more and more of the people she knew and had grown up with left the plantation, but it was a little hard to keep them all straight. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the book, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more books in the Dear America series. I think that this series and its companion series, My America, My Name Is America, and The Royal Diaries all have a great deal to offer both child and adult readers.
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