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Day of Tears: A Novel in Dialogueby Julius Lester
Synopses & Reviews
Emma is the property of Pierce Butler and has taken care of his daughters, Sarah and Frances, since their parents divorced. Emma wants to raise the girls to have good hearts, like their mother's, even as a rift in morals has ripped the Butler household apart. Sarah and her mother oppose the inhumanity of slavery, while Frances and her father believe in the Southern way of life and treatment of blacks.
Now, to pay off mounting gambling debts, Pierce decides to cash in his "assets" and host the biggest slave auction in American history. At the price of his humanity, he reaps just over $300,000 as the skies weep nonstop on the proceedings below. For although Butler had promised Emma's parents not to sell her, money, desperation, and greed enable him to justify any misdeed. Through flashbacks and flash-forwards, and shifting first-person points of view, readers will travel with Emma and others through time and place, and come to understand that every decision has consequences, and final judgments is handed down not by man, but by his maker.
Julius Lester, a master of storytelling, transforms this little-known piece of American history into one of the most dramatic and impressive works of his brilliant career.
"Unfolding like a play, Lester's novel in dialogue — based on actual events — cannot help but be informed by his research and writing for his 1969 Newbery Honor book, To Be a Slave. In many ways, the scenes here beg to be dramatized upon a stage; many sections read like monologues, but each contributes to a powerful whole. Some readers may initially have trouble connecting Emma, the children's nursemaid, to her parents, Mattie and Will, the master's manservant. As the book progresses, however, the relationships become crystal clear. The book opens as, in Mattie's words, 'The rain is coming down as hard as regret.' Master Butler is about to hold an auction to sell off 429 slaves in order to repay a gambling debt. Other details unfold, as Will mentions how he and Master Butler grew up together ('He used to look up to me like I was his big brother'); Emma mentions that Mistress Fannie left her husband a year before, and an author's note explains that Fannie Kemble, who opposed slavery, married Pierce Butler not knowing that he owned slaves. The ultimate betrayal occurs when Master Butler agrees to sell Emma, the only person whom Sara, his oldest child, trusts. Lester poignantly conveys how the auction polarizes the two sisters: Sara who detests slavery, and Frances who sides with her father. Some of the flashback sections (particularly that of the 'slave-seller') interrupt the flow of events, but the novel provides a compelling opportunity for children to step into the shoes of those whose lives were torn apart by slavery. Ages 9-13." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Neither quite poetry nor a play, the book gives the voices of each character life and brings the reader closer to understanding, on an individual basis, the legacy of slavery and its impact on whites and blacks alike." Children's Literature
"Lester imaginatively reconstructs what could have been going on in the minds of fictional slaves and owners on a Georgia plantation on the concluding day of the largest slave auction in American history. The story provides a frequently surprising variety of responses to the events. An author's note discusses the historical record." Hornbook Guide to Chuildren
Told through flashbacks, foreshadowing, and shifting first-person points of view, this novel about slavery in America follows young Emma, who along with readers will discover that every decision has its consequences, and final judgment is passed down not by man, but by his maker.
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