After his mother rebukes him for screaming that hoop snakes have invaded Buxton, gullible
11-year-old Elijah confesses to readers that "there ain't nothing in the world she
wants more than for me to quit being so doggone fra-gile." Inexperienced and prone to mistakes, yet kind, courageous, and understanding,
Elijah has the distinction of being the first child born in the Buxton Settlement,
which was founded in Ontario in 1849 as a haven for former slaves.
Narrator Elijah tells an episodic story that builds a broad picture of Buxton's
residents before plunging into the dramatic events that take him out of Buxton and,
quite possibly, out of his depth. In the author's note, Curtis relates the
difficulty of tackling the subject of slavery realistically through a child's
first-person perspective. Here, readers learn about conditions in slavery at a
distance, though the horrors become increasingly apparent.
Among the more memorable scenes are those in which Elijah meets escaped
slaves—first, those who have made it to Canada and, later, those who have been
retaken by slave catchers. Central to the story, these scenes show an emotional
range and a subtlety unusual in children's fiction.
Many readers drawn to the book by humor will find themselves at times on the edges of
their seats in suspense and, at other moments, moved to tears. A fine, original novel
from a gifted storyteller.