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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Instead of escaping North, formerly enslaved people created secret communities in swamps and forests called maroon communities. There's a note from the author talking about the maroon communities that the book is based on.
Find your voice. Allow yourself to be seen. Be brave. The younger generation will take up the torch and help take the community forward.
Positive Role Models
Many of the characters learn from their mistakes and grow into better people. Homer stops trying to be invisible and becomes a leader. Billy overcomes his fears and finds moments to be brave.
The main characters are Black. A White character has a strawberry mark on their face. Another character has a stutter. The novel describes how the maroon community of Freewater governs itself and their lives day to day. There are family units beyond mother-father-children, and a single father remarries. The story shows the horror of U.S. slavery though kids' eyes.
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Violence & Scariness
Abuse isn't explained in excessive detail, but there are mentions of branding, whipping, and physical violence. Guns are fired but don't hit anyone. The kids from Freewater fight with slingshots, arrows, and knives.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A boy has a crush on a girl, which leads to a kiss on the cheek.
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A character teases another and mocks the other character's stutter. Enslavers use the slur "darkies" when talking about the enslaved.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Occasional references to whiskey and its use in a home sleeping remedy.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Amina Luqman-Dawson's Freewater, winner of the 2023 Newbery Medal and the 2023 Coretta Scott King Award, is about two enslaved siblings, Homer, 12, and Ada, 7, escaping to a free swamp community in the American South called Freewater. There are many mentions of violence toward the enslaved (branding, whipping, physical violence). While these mentions aren't detailed at length, they are no less impactful or disheartening. There are references to drinking whiskey and the slur "darkies" is used to refer to the enslaved. One character's reckless antics put others in danger on a few occasions, but she learns from and tries to atone for her mistakes. There's a budding romance between a young boy and girl that in the beginning appears to be a one-sided crush. It progresses slowly and doesn't lead to more than a kiss on the cheek.
Is It Any Good?
This amazing tale of survival family and friendship will leave readers in awe. Freewater's multiple point of views and short chapters allow for a steady and engaging reading pace. The switching between points of view is never confusing, but sometimes enjoyably frustrating when a chapter ends on a cliffhanger. The book's main narrators are children, so readers see the horror of slavery through their eyes. They don't go into detail, so it's up to readers to put together the mystery of what happened. This allows for powerful scenes that can be only a few lines long with the reader filling in the rest.
While slavery is a huge part of the story, it's not the only focus. The book deals with themes of freedom, family, and friendship. There are also lighthearted moments of laughter, sibling bickering, and friends bonding. First-time author Amina Luqman-Dawson does a phenomenal job of showing that slavery wasn't just about physical confines, but a psychological state. Many of the formerly enslaved children take time to process their trauma in a realistic way. Throughout the story, the children (born free, formerly enslaved, and White) gain a newly enlightened view of the world and with that information, become people that will make readers proud.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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