Cover image for Chasing the North Star
Title:
Chasing the North Star
ISBN:
9781410489487
Edition:
Large print edition.
Physical Description:
487 pages (large print) ; 23 cm.
Local Subject:
Summary:
On a moonless night in the spring of 1851, a young slave makes a bid for freedom with only the North Star to guide him. Novelist and historian Robert Morgan brings to full and vivid life the story of a runaway slave named Jonah Williams, who, on his eighteenth birthday, flees the South Carolina plantation on which he was born with only a few saved coins, a knife, and the clothes on his back. No shoes, no map, no clear idea of where to head, except north, hiding during the day and running through the night. Although Jonah eludes the men sent to capture him, the one person who never loses his trail is Angel, a slave girl he meets in North Carolina, remarkably free in spirit, who sees Jonah as her way to freedom and sets out to follow him. Morgan's clear, simple prose brings an urgency and authenticity to this spellbinding story of two teenage runaways and their terrifying world.
Holds:

Available:*

Library
Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Copies
Status
Searching...
Book LP FICTION MOR 1 1
Searching...
Searching...
Book LP FICTION MOR 1 1
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

Bestselling novelist and historian Robert Morgan brings to full and vivid life the story of a young slave named Jonah Williams who, on a moonless night in the spring of 1851, makes a bid for freedom with only the North Star to guide him.


Author Notes

Acclaimed author of best-seller "Gap Creek".

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Morgan's (Gap Creek) latest is a grittily entertaining, smartly paced narrative about a fugitive slave. It's 1851, and 18-year-old house servant Jonah Williams decides to run away from the Williams corn plantation located near Greenville, S.C. Having learned to read and write, Jonah is severely whipped by his master for reading books from the plantation library. From the newspapers, he discovers that freedom lies to the north, and he escapes on foot, guided by the North Star on his eventful journey. He survives by his wits until he arrives at a slaves' mountaintop "jubilee," where he meets the zaftig Angel Thomas. After becoming Jonah's new lover, she wants to leave her master and join his flight despite his reluctance to accept a partner. The spirited interplay between the earthy Angel and cerebral Jonah provides much of the comic relief from the often violent, bleak conditions they encounter. Their harrowing ordeal while forced to work at a high-end brothel in Roanoke, Va., almost derails their mission. Despite being separated several times, Jonah always ends up back in the company of Angel as they push on to New York and Canada. He uses forged papers and an assumed name to live as a free man, while Angel realizes she has fallen in love with him. Morgan is first-rate storyteller; he plots his novel extremely well, and readers will find this journey captivating. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Eighteen-year-old Jonah, a slave on a South Carolina plantation, learned to read by fetching things for the tutor of the Williams children and sitting in on their lessons. But when Mr. Williams suspects him of stealing books and gives him a beating, Jonah decides to run away to Canada. As he makes his way north, he thinks through every step he needs to take to survive and avoid being caught. Along the way, he acquires a follower, Angel, who sees him as her only chance for freedom. Jonah considers her a complication and tries to leave her behind, but she keeps turning up. There is a mythic quality to Jonah's journey as he overcomes danger and hardship with a combination of intelligence, persistence, and luck. Angel's first-person narrative is woven throughout Jonah's story, sometimes relating the same events from a different point of view. The last few chapters, when the love story between Angel and Jonah comes to the fore, seem anticlimactic, but for most of the novel, Morgan, whose Gap Creek (1999) was an Oprah's Book Club selection, presents the reader with a convincing and richly imagined experience.--Quinn, Mary Ellen Copyright 2016 Booklist


School Library Journal Review

Jonah becomes a runaway slave on his 18th birthday after his master whips him for supposedly stealing a book. Jonah, who secretly knows how to read, has learned about freedom in the North. His journey from a plantation in South Carolina to freedom in upstate New York is harrowing to put it mildly. In moments of true suspense, this historical novel becomes a page-turner. Along the way, Jonah meets Angel, another runaway slave, and tries repeatedly to leave her behind. Aptly named, this character is an angel of sorts for him, though Jonah also finds her to be a hindrance. Angel's escape highlights a woman's perspective and reveals another layer of discrimination. The two characters provide first-person accounts at different points, and the author's decision to weave these two viewpoints offers readers a full sense of the characters. Young adults will identify with Jonah as he questions this racist system, all the while trying to find some hope in humanity. His odyssey moves him closer to freedom, but he also discovers his life's meaning and a passion for life. VERDICT A much-needed addition to high school libraries.-April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Kirkus Review

In this road novel set in the 19th century, a young black slave escapes a plantation to seek freedom in the North. Poet, novelist, and historian Morgan has staked out a rich piece of literary territory for himself. His splendid books (The Road from Gap Creek, 2013, etc.) have portrayed a frontier Appalachian worldespecially North Carolinaof hardship and perseverance. This novel explores a subject that has been just on the edges of his previous booksthe African-American experience. Jonah Williams is an 18-year-old South Carolina slave who becomes a runaway in the spring of 1851. After being falsely accused of stealing a book (he taught himself to read) and viciously lashed for his offense, Jonah decides to run. With only a knife and a few coins he took from his Mama's jar, and without any shoes, he heads into a mountainous wilderness filled with "outlaws and squatters and trash." Using the North Star as his beacon, he heads North, where he had read Negroes were free. The novel starts deceptively slowly, with what appears to be a fairly simple narrative told in simple prose, but it's much more. We closely follow Jonah as he confronts a world of copperheads, poison oak, hornets' nests, and massive mountains to climb. He must learn, adapt, be resourceful and wary to survive: "A slave was never supposed to hurry, or hold his head too high." Morgan beautifully conveys Jonah's wistful regrets for leaving and then his constant, palpable fears. He relies on his wiles to escape from men anxious to capture him, and there are many close callsas well as severe violence. Along the way Jonah meets a slave girl, Angel, who then runs after him, hoping she'll find that freedom train to the North too. A powerful, gripping, and unrelenting tale of wilderness survival under the most dire of circumstances in the pursuit of freedom: another outstanding work of historical fiction from Morgan. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

In 1850, Jonah -Williams escapes from a South Carolina mansion after being whipped for the offense of being literate. Sought by bounty hunters, Jonah crosses paths with another slave, Angel, and though he'd like to abandon her, she won't let him go. She sees him as her ticket to freedom, but she also loves Jonah and considers herself his perfect counterbalance: Jonah is educated but ignorant of life outside of books, while Angel is worldly wise and free. And she maintains her independence-which is one of the wonderful things about this story-no matter the indignities she endures, including prostitution, poverty, and rape. Adventures happen. The couple meet intriguing people. And time after time, Jonah walks away from Angel only to find, further down the road, that there she is again. Gradually, love takes shape. VERDICT Morgan (Gap Creek) has mined U.S. history to tell a picaresque story that succeeds at being both poetic and action filled. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

He was called Jonah because he was born during a terrible storm and his mama said soon as she let go of him and put him ashore in this world of folly and time, the thunder quieted and the wind laid. Trees had broken off their stumps and skipped across fields like dust brooms, and the Saluda River spread wide over the bottomlands. Some of the slave cabins behind Mr. Williams's brick house got smashed to splinters by the high tempest. But soon as Jonah was cut loose and washed off in a pan and wrapped up in a towel rag, his mama said the sky cleared and the moon came out and shined so bright you could see a needle in the light from the window. Everything the storm had ruined was vivid in the moonlight, including dead birds that had been torn from their roosts and snakes washed out of holes in the ground. Because Jonah arrived on the full of the moon in the middle of a storm under the sign of the Crab, his mama called him her moon baby. The granny woman that delivered him said he would always be darting away, running from one thing and then another. He'd be no more dependable than Jonah in the Holy Book. THE DAY JONAH DECIDED to run away from Mr. Williams's plantation was the day he turned eighteen. It was in the middle of summer, a hot day in the cotton fields and cornfields. The Williams plantation lay in the foothills of South Carolina, north of Greenville, on land just below the cotton line. Higher in the hills the season was too short to grow cotton. Farther south the winter was too short for apple trees to thrive. Mostly Mr. Williams grew corn, which he sold to stock drovers in the winter to feed their herds of cattle, horses, hogs, or flocks of sheep or turkeys. Drovers came by every day on the Buncombe Pike, driving their animals through dust or mud to the markets in Columbia and Charleston. Mr. Williams had built pens beside his big brick house to hold the herds and flocks, and the drovers paid two bits to sleep on the floor or four bits to sleep in a room upstairs in the big house. The house was called a stand or a tavern, and many of the women worked inside cooking and cleaning and taking care of the drovers. But in the summer they worked in the fields also. Mr. Williams called the plantation Snowdon, for a place in Wales overseas where his grandpa had come from. Since the Williams Place was not a regular plantation, almost everybody did more than one job. Field hands chopped wood when firewood was needed, and they cut trees and sawed lumber when a new barn or stock shed was built. "I can't afford no field hands and house help," Mr. Williams liked to say. Everybody had to hoe corn in the spring and all the men had to clean manure out of the stables and pens and spread the wagonloads on the fields. But Jonah the moon baby had been lucky, because Mrs. Williams picked him out as a boy to serve her and her children. Mrs. Williams was blonde and young and plump. She was young enough to be Mr. Williams's own child. She was from Columbia and she liked to wear lacy pink dresses and give parties for her friends from Greenville and Travelers Rest. She even gave parties for her children, Betsy and Johnny. And she liked young slaves to serve at parties for her offspring. She had special clothes made for Jonah to act as butler at frolics for Betsy and Johnny and the neighbor children of quality. And because she paid special attention to Jonah, he paid special mind to Mrs. Williams. He volunteered to bring her the best strawberries from the patch just when they were perfectly ripe, and raspberries from the garden wall. He gathered chestnuts in the fall and roasted them on the hearth for his mistress. He carried her lap robe to the church in wintertime. When Betsy and Johnny had their lessons, Jonah often got to sit with them. His job was to bring things the tutor and his pupils needed, a glass of water, a book from the library, an extra pen or pair of scissors. Jonah got to listen to the lessons and observe the writing on the slates, and in time he learned to read and count the same as Betsy and Johnny did. Jonah knew he was not supposed to be reading. Nobody but white folks were supposed to read. But every chance he got he listened to the lessons and he learned the letters and numbers. He tried to read newspapers left on the table and the children's books left in the playroom. It was Mrs. Williams who caught him taking a book from the master's library. It was a big book called Robinson Crusoe and he'd listened to the tutor read that volume to Betsy and Johnny. It was a thrilling book, with lots of words Jonah didn't understand. Day after day he listened to the tutor reading from that story, and when the book was taken back to the library Jonah promised himself he was going to slip it under his shirt and carry it back to the cabin to read himself by firelight. Jonah knew where the book was. He'd replaced it on the shelf himself between smooth leather volumes with gold lettering on them. He had no trouble finding the book again and sliding it inside his shirt. He hoped to walk quickly down the hallway and take the side door out of the house. He would hide the book in a boxwood until nightfall. But just as he passed the dining room, Mrs. Williams called to him from the bottom of the stairs. She wanted him to carry a message to her friend Ophelia, who lived on the adjoining farm. She often called Jonah to deliver letters. But almost instantly she spotted the book under Jonah's shirt where the volume's weight pulled down the fabric. "What is that?" Mrs. Williams said, and pointed to the sagging cloth. "Ain't nothing, ma'am." "Don't lie to me," Mrs. Williams snapped. She made Jonah draw the book from his shirt and hand it to her. "I won't have a thief in my house," his mistress said. Jonah wanted to tell her he was borrowing the book for the tutor, but he knew the tutor would say he'd already read the book to Betsy and Johnny. "You were going to take the book to the store and try to sell it," Mrs. Williams said. Jonah shook his head and began to cry. He didn't mean to cry, but his knees shook and his jaw trembled. He had no choice but to say he was borrowing the book to read himself. As he said the words he felt something hot and wet running down his pants leg. He looked at the floor and saw a puddle of pee growing on the varnished planks. Mrs. Williams noticed the streak down his jeans and the puddle also. "Shame on you, Jonah," she said. "Shame on you for deceiving us, and for stealing a volume from Mr. Williams's library." Mrs. Williams was fat and soft, and she smelled like face powder and perfume. She took a handkerchief from the pocket of her dress and wiped his cheeks. She put her hands on Jonah's shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "I won't tell anybody you can read," she said. "I won't tell anybody, if you'll promise me. Will you promise me?" Jonah nodded that he would promise her whatever she asked. He was trembling and afraid he might be whipped and put in chains and branded the way Old Isaac was. If a slave fought and hurt another slave, he was whipped and put in chains. Even worse, Jonah was afraid he might be sold and sent away to live among strangers. Mrs. Williams said she'd tell nobody he could read if Jonah would return the book to the library and read to her from the Bible from time to time. She said he'd benefit most from reading the Good Book and she was going to give him his very own Bible so he could study it and learn more. "Reading the Bible will teach you not to steal and deceive," Mrs. Williams said. "Yes, ma'am." "Reading the Bible will make you wise and useful." The Bible Mrs. Williams gave Jonah was small enough to fit in his pocket. It had letters the size of gnats and hairs. But it was the prettiest book he'd ever seen, bound in rippling black leather. The edges of the pages were gold. The book had paper thin and crackly as cigarette paper or filmy bark on a river birch. Mrs. Williams made Jonah promise to read the book when he was alone. He could read it out in the woods or he could read it in the big house. He could read the book to her for his private lessons, and her private devotions. "We will learn with each other," Mrs. Williams said. She made him clean up the pee on the floor and wash his pants at the well. AS JONAH READ TO Mrs. Williams from the Bible and learned more words, and learned the stories from the Bible, Mrs. Williams explained what words meant, words like void and begat, serpent and multiply. He stumbled through verses and Mrs. Williams explained when she could. Some of the words she didn't know herself. She said someday he could learn to look up words in the dictionary, but for now he should just keep on reading. She liked to close her eyes while he read, like she was dreaming of things described in the Bible. Sometimes she had headaches and put a damp cloth soaked with camphor on her forehead and kept her eyes shut as he stumbled through verses. "This will be just our secret," Mrs. Williams said. To help with his reading, Mrs. Williams let Jonah take newspapers back to the quarters. "Tell your mama they are to start fires with," Mrs. Williams said. "But before you burn the papers up, you can read every word." From reading the newspapers Jonah learned about the Fugitive Slave Act, and he learned about the Great Compromise. Much of what he read he didn't understand. He read about elections and things in faraway Washington. He read about the northern states, and at some point it came to him there was a place in the north, beyond North Carolina, where no one was a slave. He'd heard rumors about that. But an escaped slave could be arrested and returned to his owner. There were supposed to be no slaves up there, in the states to the north. Jonah read many mysterious things in the newspapers before they got burned. He read about foreign countries and wars in places he'd never heard of. He read about places where the snow never melted, far to the north. And he read about governments with kings and ships that sailed to China. The newspapers were Mrs. Williams's greatest gift to him, besides keeping the secret of his reading. In the heat and dirt of the Williams Place, the newspapers were an inky threshold where he could enter a landscape that reached to the North Pole and to other times and people he'd never heard a whisper about before. The day Jonah decided to run away from the Williams Place was the day his secret was found out. Excerpted from Chasing the North Star: A Novel by Robert Morgan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.