In honour of Black History Month, I have selected a book that was an absolute favourite of my childhood and is both appropriate for preteens / teenagers and will be enjoyed by adults alike: Underground to Canada.
When the central character, Julily, is separated from her mother and sent to work on a brutal slave plantation, she survives in part by forming a strong friendship by another young girl in equally distressing circumstances, Liza. Together, their lasting friendship is more than just a social bond: it is the key to their survival. Julily helps Liza with the backbreaking work, and Liza provides encouragement and relief with her wry sense of humor.
Against improbable odds, and against all forms of better judgement, Julily and Liza join with some adult men, also slaves, to undertake the long, dangerous, and exhausting journey to Canada via the Underground Railroad. The tension at times is almost unbearable – my heart pounds every time I read the section when they run through the swamp to mask their scent from the bloodhounds in hot pursuit.
Is this a book that inspires me to travel? In many ways, certainly not. While the descriptions of their journey is richly written, there is as much sorrow as there is joy in this book and reading about such sadness in history doesn't make me want to get any closer to it. And while I may find the architecture of old plantation homes to be interesting, I feel that some attractions can sometimes whitewash history, explaining away the atrocities of slavery as an unfortunate chapter in an otherwise glorious family history.
But on the other hand, there is an incredibly interesting history to be discovered and retracing part of the Underground Railway would be a chance to see some amazing and diverse parts of the United States, giving the traveler the opportunity to experience a unique part of history and visit areas that aren't typically on a tourist trail.
The characters in this book are an inspiration and I re-read this book endlessly when I was young and I hope you find it just as compelling as I do!
You can buy this book (currently on sale!) through my Amazon store, or please check it out at your local library or bookstore.