Some say that you can tell a lot about a book by its cover. I used to wonder how true that was. But that was before I stumbled upon All Different Kinds of Free, a wonderful novel by Jessica McCann.
Two things caught my attention when I saw it for the first time: the person of colour and the word Free. I knew right away that it was a story about slavery. So I followed my instinct and I downloaded it before I even read the full blurb about it. I’m so glad I did (even though I had more than enough books in my e-reader to last me a lifetime . . . and then some).
What I didn’t know, however was that the main protagonist, Margaret Morgan, isn’t a fictitious character.
Margaret was a woman of colour, and a devoted wife and mother who lived in the 1800’s. But she was more than that: she was free, making a living as a seamstress. One night in 1837, a bounty hunter tears her family apart when he kidnapped her and the children, claiming she is a runaway slave, and forces her into slavery. No expects Margaret to fight back, but she does . . . with a vengeance, some might say, all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Inspired by a true story, McCann does a superb job retelling the account details of what little is known of the case Prigg v. Pennsylvania. One website put it this way:
“History books will have you believe the story Prigg v. Pennsylvania is important because it ended in controversy, and fanned the early sparks of Civil War. But this book will have you believe the story is important because it began with Margaret.”
When it comes to slavery, I haven’t read such a gripping historical novel since Alex Haley’s bestselling novel Roots. When this latter came out on television as a miniseries (now on video) back in 1977, I watched the saga unfold for 8 consecutive nights. It moved me in so many ways; it tore me apart; made me laugh and cry, but most of all, it gave me a profound love for these people. In fact, I even vowed that someday, I’d go to this beautiful land called Africa. I kept my promise, not once but twice. Anyone who’s been there knows that once just isn’t enough.
McCann’s novel moved me quite similarly, from the first page until the last. I’m certain it will move you too.