FICTION

Jefferson's Sons

. 978-0-80373-499-9.
COPY ISBN
RedReviewStarGr 6—9—This well-researched fictional look at the lives of the sons of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings echoes with the horrors of slavery and the contradictions within the author of the Declaration of Independence and an admired champion of liberty. Bradley depicts Sally Hemings as a determined woman who accepts her role as a slave and secret lover of the president while she focuses on the promised freedom for her children. The story is told mainly by her three sons, Beverly, Madison, and Eston. Hemings never allows her children to forget that they are slaves while they live at Monticello and makes sure that they are aware of slavery's repulsiveness, despite their somewhat special status. She plans to have her light-skinned son Beverly and daughter Harriet go out in the world and "pass" as white people, but this will require that they never acknowledge her or their darker family members again. Eventually financial difficulties grow, and Jefferson is forced to sell many possessions, including 130 slaves. Maddy and Eston are given their freedom at the age of 21, but Sally Hemings was never set free. Bradley's fine characterization and cinematic prose breathe life into this tragic story.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
William Beverly Hemings and his siblings are slaves; they’re also Thomas Jefferson’s children. Granted freedom at twenty-one, light-skinned Beverly leaves Monticello with plans to pass for white. But cultural differences complicate every aspect of his new life. The voices of the Hemings children give readers a perspective not found in history textbooks. An informative author’s note completes this eye-opening and powerful novel.
William Beverly Hemings has no idea what to call his father. His mother, Sally Hemings, forbids him to say Papa; Monticello's slaves address him as Master Jefferson; and Mr. President is the term usually reserved for visitors. Beverly, and his brothers and sister, are slaves; they're also Thomas Jefferson's children. What's more, they're legally white. The complexity of Beverly's identity gives the novel its heft but requires some background that initially takes the spotlight away from the characters before they emerge as distinct individuals to anchor this moving human story. Granted freedom at twenty-one, light-skinned Beverly leaves Monticello with plans to pass for white. But there's more to passing than color; cultural differences complicate every aspect of his new life. "The only way to be white is to not ever have been black." The voices of the Hemings children give readers a perspective not found in history textbooks. The rights of man, for example, aren't in nineteenth-century America for the taking; and no one knows this better than the slaves of Monticello, who, through Jefferson's indifference, are cruelly beaten and casually sold. As Beverly's younger brother Maddy tries to explain to a friend, Jefferson's Declaration of Independence proclaimed the founding fathers would protect those rights. "But they didn't really do it," the boy says. "I know," replies Maddy. "But they think they did." An informative author's note completes this eye-opening and powerful novel. betty carter

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