Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Jefferson’s Sons is an interesting, sometimes disturbing, novel told from the point of view of three slave children on Thomas Jefferson’s estate, two of whom are Jefferson’s sons. The author did extensive research, and in this story she imagines how life may have been for the children of the slave Sally Hemings. Well written and engaging, the story covers twenty years as it describes growing up on the Monticello estate as the secret children of Thomas Jefferson.

Told in the first-person voice of each of the three narrators, Jefferson’s Sons manages to convey the complexity of emotions the children feel as they grow up and realize their complicated situation. Drawn to Jefferson as a father and yet repelled by his status as a slave-owner, Beverly and Madison face difficult decisions as to what to think and what to do as they get older. Their friend Peter also grows up as a slave at Monticello, and faces his own difficult future.

This book does not shy away from dealing with the topic of Sally Heming’s relationship with Jefferson – she goes up to his house each night – making it appropriate for children who would understand that concept. However, for children ready for life’s nuances, this book gives a fascinating look at the lives of the slaves, and of Jefferson’s family at the great house. Historical notes at the end of the book tell what is thought to have happened to the people in the book after it ends. The author’s meticulous research and excellent writing style combine to make this book a story you will remember long after you finish reading it. 2011

M. Adams

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