Sarah, the daughter of a plantation owner and slave master, is unusual for her time and place. She believes the African Americans enslaved on her father’s plantation are people and should not be owned. Unfortunately the rest of her family does not feel the same way she does, in fact, her mother is determined to bring her around to the “correct” way of thinking and presents her with the “gift” of an enslaved girl she calls Hettie on her birthday. Sarah tries not to accept the gift without success.
Hettie is a slave name, but Handfull is what her people call her. Handfull’s mother is the cook for Sarah’s family and lives in the house as well. Handfull worries about her mother because, in Handfull’s opinion, she takes too many risks; these risks have ended in terrible physical abuse and Handfull can’t take seeing her mother suffer like that. Sarah learns Handfull’s real name and wants to teach her how to read; Handfull’s mother encourages this seeing that the benefits of knowledge outweigh the risks of getting caught. For enslaved people punishments are so violent and grave it is hard to imagine how anyone can be so brave; these women know that being enslaved in body and mind is far worse than any physical abuse that might befall them. Freedom is the goal at any cost.
If you enjoy historical fiction about American History you might also enjoy: Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, or The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis, or Uprising, by Margaret Peterson Haddix