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For 40 years, Rachel has been enslaved on a plantation called Providence in Barbados. When the plantation’s master announces that the British king has passed the Emancipation Act of 1834, Rachel and the other slaves are overcome with joy. But the master aborts their dreams of freedom when he says the slaves are not permitted to leave—they are now his apprentices and must work for him for six more years. Rachel is not surprised: “For years, she had lived in perpetual twilight. Those she loved were long gone. Her life had shrunk to the size of the plantation, the routine of endless toil and the long shadows of what had once been. So, there was sense to it. Freedom was an emptiness that could only be filled with sugarcane.”  

Still, Rachel runs, horrified at the prospect of another six years on the plantation and just as petrified of the unknowns that await her. When Rachel meets an extraordinary free Black woman named Mama B, she begins to understand that, though her life of slavery had forged in her mind and heart the notion that only loss was certain and nothing would ever change, “things were not so set as they had once seemed.” She witnesses Mama B’s generous capacity to love in spite of the hardships slavery had cost her, and “for Rachel, who had tried to teach herself to love less, help less, close herself off from others, this expansive survival offered hope. There was another way.”   

Rachel’s “other way” compels her to search for her five remaining children—out of 11 she had given birth to—who had been sold into slavery. In a year filled with extraordinary encounters, life-threatening dangers, deep sorrow, and profound joy, Rachel travels from Barbados to British Guiana to Trinidad in search of Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane, and Mercy. As Rachel navigates physical landscapes she has never encountered before, her inner landscape is transformed in ways she could never have imagined: “Rachel was flushed with the thrill of her new discovery—that she had no interest in the kind of life she had once lived, resigned to doing someone else’s bidding. She had never thought of herself as capable of great, life-altering change. She had done what she had to do to survive slavery, and then when freedom came she had thought it was too late. But now, she was almost giddy with the sense that change had come without her realizing.”  

Author Eleanor Shearer’s epic debut novel for adults fulfills her goal as expressed in endnotes: “This is a story that does not shy away from the brutality of slavery, but that ultimately still has something uplifting at its heart.” (Penguin Random House)

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