Come August, Come Freedom by Gigi Amateau
Published by Candlewick Press
Review copy received at SIBA
Gabriel is a young slave growing up in post-Revolutionary Richmond, Virginia. He has a loving mother and a close relationship with the young son of his master, so when he is sent to the city to learn the blacksmith trade, he is nervous but determined to be a successful smith like his father was. Gabriel learns a lot and grows up quite a bit in the years he’s away from the plantation, and when he comes back, he knows exactly what he has to do: become the driving force behind a slave rebellion.
Come August, Come Freedom is a beautiful novel for the young adult reader that is inspired by actual historical events. I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since SIBA but when I learned that Amateau’s going to be at the UCF Book Festival, I really got my butt into gear and finally picked it up. What I loved about this novel is its uniqueness for the YA genre, if you will. It seems like (at least to me, anyway) everything YA is either supernatural, dystopia, or romance. Very rarely to I see a straightforward historical fiction YA novel (if you know of more, especially more recently published ones, do let me know!). Not only is Come August, Come Freedom unique, but it is exceptionally well-written and told me a story about a figure in history I had never heard of before.
Gabriel is the kind of character the reader can sympathize with immediately. He was educated alongside his master’s son, so he is a rare literate slave, and he has a determination and fiery drive inside of him that causes the reader to root for him from the beginning. He knows that his life is inherently wrong, but it’s not until he gets to the “big city” does he realize that he can actually do something to change it.
This book is really heartbreaking to read, because the reader knows that this rebellion can’t possibly end well for Gabriel and the other slaves, but it’s impossible not to remain hopeful that it will. It’s even more difficult to read because Gabriel ends up falling in love and getting married just before carrying out the rebellion, so the hope that he’ll be successful and be a free man by the time the book is over is something I continued to hold onto until the very end. History isn’t usually pretty, though, and Amateau gives Gabriel’s life and fight the respect it deserves while being honest about what really happened. It’s a reality that is necessary to read about, difficult as it may be.
I really appreciated Come August, Come Freedom on so many levels. Amateau is a talented writer and she illuminates this painful part of history for teens and middle graders with clarity, beautiful writing, and respect for that age group and what they should know about slavery. This stuff really happened, and while Amateau doesn’t shy away from the reality of the situation, she puts it out there in an age-appropriate manner – something I imagine must be difficult to do. Also she took a little-known figure in history, Gabriel, and turned him into a complex character with a mom, dad, brothers, and eventually a wife. She created a wonderful novel with so much going for it, and I am very glad I was given the opportunity to read this one. Highly recommended.