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Chasing the North Star: A Novel (edition 2016)

by Robert Morgan (Author)

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7734156,384 (3.73)9
Member:nbmars
Title:Chasing the North Star: A Novel
Authors:Robert Morgan (Author)
Info:Algonquin Books (2016), 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:**1/2
Tags:fiction, historical fiction, slavery

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Chasing the North Star: A Novel by Robert Morgan

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received a copy of Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan from LibraryThing for early review.

Chasing the North Star is a historical novel detailing the grueling journey north of 2 runaway slaves from North Carolina. Jonah is 18 when he decides to run. He has grown up on the Williams plantation serving Mrs. Williams and her children in his master's house and has learned to read by paying attention to the tutor that schooled the Williams' children. Mr Williams catches him reading one day and accuses him of stealing a book. That night after being brutally whipped, Jonah steals away. Traveling mostly at night initially, Jonah is constantly thinking of how he can avoid being caught and how he can survive. He meets Angel, a slave who is being sexually exploited by her master. Angel decides she too will runaway and follows Jonah north.

Robert Morgan does a wonderful job of immersing you in the lives of the characters Jonah and Angel telling their stories in their voices. The horrors they must endure as they struggle reach freedom is heart wrenching and a testament to their will to live. Well worth the read. ( )
  kremsa | Apr 26, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The book caught my eye when it mentioned South Carolina. The history of my state is of a great interest to me. I have read many books on slavery, fact, and fiction, and this is one of my favorites. Most of the books on this terrible period have an “academic” feel to them whereas Chasing The North Star has a story of the human spirit, of the will to be free. A read of this book is a journey of pain and hardship, but also of love and a quest to live without bondage. ( )
  coker74 | Apr 25, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Robert Morgan's novel, Chasing the North Star, gives a different perspective on the flight of two slaves fleeing tot he north from South Carolina. Instead of connecting with the Underground Railway, the two young people make their way - sometimes together, sometimes individually - to Ithaca, New York using guile and good luck. The tale pulls you in and you are interested in what fates will befall the escaping slaves and the two meet all types of characters. The author is realistic in portraying some of the less savory things the two must do in order to survive - including working in a brothel - and some of the punishments to be endured.
My reservations from rating the book more highly are primarily that there were just too many times when good luck or happy coincidences would save our two runaways. Jonah jumps a freight train and climbs into a box car and there sits Angel whom he had run off and left. These types of unlikely occurrences had me shaking my head several times.
Nevertheless a pretty good read. ( )
  ORTeacher | Apr 24, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An interesting book and a good read. It would also make a good TV show, and I think this may be one of the book's faults. Like a TV show, logic, time and character are sometimes taken for granted and something could be dropped and a week later just picked up. This is a picaresque novel of Jonah Williams who escapes from a plantation in South Carolina and has a series of disjointed adventures on his way north to freedom. His character leaves his mother without a good-bye, steals her money as he leaves, and seems to have no human ties to his home. He meets a female slave later, Angel, who sticks to him even though he leaves her four times in the novel. Miraculously, they see each other and are re-united, even though they pass through five different states they always end up at the same town in time to see each other. Jonah doesn't care for Angel, and is cautious about being seen with another runaway slave. Angel has fallen for Jonah, and won't let him go. She has a sex filled life as a black prostitute in a white world, and seems to take no emotional problems with being used by so many men. Both Jonah and Angel seem to have little social attachments, and pass through life as observers rather than participants.
Having to steal to survive, and although Jonah may have killed another runaway slave, they pass through the Old South using different plans and techniques to keep from being caught as runaway slaves. While this is part of the story, there seems to be no introspection or sorrow or joy for their misdeeds of theft, burglary and prostitution. Like a TV show, all the story characters do what they do to advance the plot, but don't express their personalities other than as two dimensional television characters who are simply there for a plot event.
Some things in the story may have been based on an actual event that happened to runaway slaves, but just seem to be added to story, such as an encounter with a mad dog. Another is a fanciful story of a "Jubilee", where slaves runaway overnight for boozing, dancing and sex in a combination of bad Hollywood voodoo and old plantation stories. A mountain makes deep noises, that attract Jonah to the Jubilee, but is never explained other than a reference to a drum that could be heard for miles, but evidently not by white slave owners.
The book ends as it should in TV, with the runaways both finding a haven in New York, and finding the joy of marriage, a clean home with flowers in the windowsill and children.
The book did keep me interested, and is well paced as the runaways valiantly cross mountains, streams, large towns, and escape the dogs and slave catchers and suspicious whites. ( )
  hadden | Apr 24, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book follows, in blow-by-blow manner, the escape of the 18-year-old slave Jonah Williams to the North and freedom following a beating by his master in South Carolina. He is soon joined by a young slave woman, Angel, who decides to hitch her star to Jonah and follow him to gain her own freedom.

In a way it is something of an escaping-slave version of the 1987 book Hatchet, the Newbery Honor-winning young-adult wilderness survival novel by Gary Paulsen. Jonah has to overcome a great deal of adversity and a large learning curve to get what he needs to survive. He, along with Angel when he is eventually joined by her, manage by a great many felicitous turns of events, in circumstances when making it to the North alive and without mutilation or death was never a sure thing. It might even be said that Jonah and Angel experienced more luck than was probable.

In any event, the story kept me turning the pages. But I had a couple of strongly-felt criticisms of it.

One is the writing. The descriptions of the changing landscape are well written, but I did not think the dialogue sounded realistic. Rather, I thought it ranged from sophomoric to wooden to improbable in many cases.

My biggest problem, however, was with the character of Angel. While I liked Angel’s perseverance and pluck, I found it difficult to believe that so much rape and abuse by men could be so elevating for her self-esteem, making her feel “beautiful” and “wanted.” On the contrary, her portrayal was alarmingly close to the white stereotype of black women as basically sexualized animals. In addition, I thought that the lines she spoke or thought were pretty appalling, showing not much insight into what a female in her circumstances might be thinking, at least in my opinion.

Evaluation: If the author had stuck to the story of the male escaping slave rather than adding in a female, I think it would have been a much better book. I'm trying my best not to see the author as sharing or being complicit in the salacious gaze of the white men in the book towards Angel, but it's not easy. ( )
  nbmars | Apr 21, 2017 |
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