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The Night I Freed John Brown

by John Michael Cummings

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393616,988 (4.25)None
In Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, twelve-year-old Josh uncovers family secrets involving his overly strict father, whose anger threatens to tear the family apart.

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"The Night I Freed John Brown" captures the essence of youthful bewilderment and its desire to be loved, accepted, understood, and valued.

This is a very compelling story of a teen's experiences in tourist town, Harper's Ferry, WV. Mr. Cummings captures the imagination of Josh as he deals with his unfortunate circumstances of growing up with a father riddled with a bitterness that shows itself in their tattered home. It shares the torment of trying to understand and love a father with a secret he cannot share until events bring the family to an impossible situation that cannot be healed without its unveiling. The story brings moments of laughter, hope, shock, and sorrow as the troubled youth tries desperately to find self worth and acceptance and familial love. It rivets forward as Josh pushes for truth as hard as his father pushes to lock down his secret. ( )
  Aminahcc | Sep 5, 2012 |
Loved reading this wonderful book. Could not stop reading it especially the last 10 chapters. An exciting story with many twists and turns until the dramatic conclusion. A superb story that blends the character Josh's childhood living in historic Harper's Ferry with John Brown and many secrets and dramatic happenings. I highly recommend this book for readers both young and old. You will not be disappointed. ( )
  TraceyOliv | Mar 18, 2010 |
Though this book is nominally for "young adults," it's a rip-roaring good story that will appeal to almost anyone who was ever a boy or had a father.

The central character is Josh, a 13-year-old boy growing up in a poor family in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Both literally and figuratively, Josh and his family live in the shadow of the church next door, of their more affluent neighbors, and of the legendary John Brown, the 19th-century abolitionist whose statue glares at their house from across the street.

For an adult reader such as myself, the book awakens long-sleeping memories of the world as seen in childhood: small and intimate, yet imbued with cosmic portent and urgency. Cummings's greatest achievement as a writer is to re-inhabit this world and take his readers along with him. He tells the story from Josh's point of view, with never a false note, never an adult voice intruding into the narrative, never a sly wink at the reader.

The truth and sincerity of the writing are joined by its remarkable insight into the relationship between boys and their fathers. The mystery of John Brown, of the abandoned house, of the search for "cowmint" - all those are mere surrogates for the real mystery Josh must solve. It's a mystery that every boy must confront as he grows up: the mystery of his own father. First made an object of uncritical hero-worship, then seen as a foolish bully, and at last accepted as a fully-realized human being with virtues, flaws, courage, and fears, Josh's father - like the reader's - is finally understood.

Kids will love it because it tells a true and exciting story that's really about *them*. Adults will love it for different reasons, as a time-warp trip back into their own past.

-reviewed by Schriftsteller ( )
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  sentry255 | Dec 27, 2009 |
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The Buffalo News

Cummings grew up in Harpers Ferry, Va., and his compelling novel — of a sensitive boy growing up in the long shadows of his angry father and the grim statue of the fiery abolitionist staring at him from the museum across the street — owes much to the vivid descriptions of this particular place. Thirteen-year-old Josh is artistic, very different from his troublesome older brothers, and he yearns to solve the mystery of the abandoned family home in the woods.

The author offers a compelling narrative of a troubled family and a dark secret of past grudges and grievances along with a coming-of-age tale with Josh’s fiery declaration of independence.

— Jean Westmoore
Kirkus Reviews

Harpers Ferry, W.Va., a little town tucked in the shadows of the surrounding mountains, is a perfect place for an old-fashioned tale of family secrets and revelations. It was the site of John Brown’s raid, and the ghost of John Brown lives on in the anger and rage of Josh Connors’s father. The gentler spirits of Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglass, who also had connections to the town, seem to inhabit the neighbor Josh is drawn to, an actor, historian and reader of Shakespeare who kindles in Josh a desire to see more of the world and lead a better life.

But all is not what it seems, and the psychological drama set up in the conflict between the two men unfolds in a tense series of nighttime events through which Josh learns much about his father’s past and from which springs a hope for transcendence.

Characterizations are sharp, the setting eerily evoked and the story satisfying, though as hard to pin down as the town’s ghostly forebears. A highly original meditation on how the past can haunt the present.

added by sentry255 | editKirkus Reviews (Apr 1, 2008)

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In Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, twelve-year-old Josh uncovers family secrets involving his overly strict father, whose anger threatens to tear the family apart.

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