Year Published: 2011
Written by: Joyce Hansen
Illustrated by: E.B Lewis
Maria Peterson is looking forward to turning thirteen. She envisions new adult prestige and responsibility, like attending abolitionist meetings and listening to inspiring speakers like Sojourner Truth. She doesn’t bank on all the unexpected changes that her thirteenth year brings, however. For starters the City of New York wants to turn her “neat little settlement” into a magnificent park. Now that Maria has made a new friend, she’s even more determined to stay. But soon Maria discovers that her friend may have issues even more dire than being thrown out of her home. Will Maria be able to save her home and help her friend? Or will she just rue the day her thirteenth year began?
The historical facts are even more gripping than the fiction in this novel set in 1850s New York City. In the first chapter, Maria Peters, 13, is inspired when she hears Sojourner Truth deliver a thundering abolitionist speech in church. In the last chapter, Maria and her family must leave home when the city destroys their black community to make room for Central Park. At times, the narrative bogs down with the details of the huge cast of characters trying to organize resistance to the displacement. But the heartrending abolitionist story is made personal with Maria’s new, quiet friend in school, Anna, who turns out to be a fugitive hiding from the slave-catchers. Anna’s parents earned their freedom down South but Anna still belongs to the slave-owner, and her parents could be arrested for stealing her. So could Maria, for helping Anna. Woven throughout, the history of Central Park adds to the story’s underlying questions about the meaning of roots and displacement. Small, delicate illustrations by Lewis add interest at the opening of each chapter. Grades 5-8.-Hazel Rochman