I am not as up on Black history or even multicultural history as I should be, and that is a tragedy because history fascinates me and it’s not all dead white dudes. When a book about black history crosses my radar, especially a historical fiction young adult book, I try to get my hands on it and read it. I’ve got a pretty powerful platform to promote books about diversity and multicultural books, and so I use it. Thus, when Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows And The Black General Gabriel by Gigi Amateau crossed my radar at BEA 2012, I knew I had to read it. Also the publicist Raquel did a pretty FANTASTIC job pitching it, and you guys know how it is getting suckered into a good pitch. I did end up finding Come August, Come Freedom to be heartfelt read that made the past come alive for me.
Come August, Come Freedom covers Gabriel’s life from birth until the very end. In 1776, Gabriel is born a slave. He is raised alongside the master’s son Thomas Prosser, and the two have a bond as milk brothers. As Gabriel grows up, he becomes literate learning alongside Thomas. But then, along the way, betrayals happen and so Gabriel is torn from his family and sent to Richmond to apprentice as a blacksmith. As a blacksmith, he learns about the revolt in Haiti lead by General Toussaint and catches the spark of revolution and freedom. From there, Gabriel plots rebellion, hoping to free not only his family, but thousands of others. Come August, Come Freedom is a story of courage against all of the odds.
I’ve read a handful of books about the period of slavery, but none where the main character leads a revolution against his oppressors, even if it is a failed revolution. Personally, as a student of history and someone who once had a very vested interest in teaching history, I think that it is important to show how slaves resisted. It’s important to show that slaves were not complacent or happy with their slavery, to combat the racist images of our past. What Come August, Come Freedom does is paint a fascinating and rich picture of an important facet of African American history. One of a historical figure so strong and brave that he fights a doomed fight. I think Gabriel was a hero and we would do well to learn about him in history class alongside other Black historical figures. Further, it was rather neat how Gigi Amateau interspersed Come August, Come Freedom with historical documents. The teacher voice inside me was like YES this is how we get kids involved with primary sources, but introducing them gently, alongside a riveting story. This is how we show kids that history is FAR from boring.
As I read about Gabriel, my heart broke for him. Here is a man who is ripped from his family. He can’t even live with the woman he loves, Nanny, because she’s owned by a different master. He has no control over what happens to his children. You guys, his children could have been sold with the snap of a finger and Gabriel would have been able to do nothing about it. I know we learn about this in class, about how awful slavery was, but it seems like for some of us it just went over our heads, or because it’s in the past we are unable to put a human face on it. That is awful to me. And what I think Gabriel’s character does, through his trials and tribulations and triumphs, is that he puts a human face on it. He is a man of great dignity and I wanted to know more about him and more about the rich history of African Americans.
The romance within Come August, Come Freedom is a quiet sort of romance. It’s not the torrid sort that becomes front and center with so many YA books today, but the kind that buoys up the story. Gabriel and Nanny face legit obstacles in their relationship. It’s not some stupid object like ‘my parents don’t like him’ or ‘he’s such a bad boy and I am such a good girl’, but obstacles as in the two are considered property of other people and therefore do not have very much legal agency. That is awful to me, yet they overcome. Yet, they love despite those awful odds. Yet, they start a family. Nanny stands by Gabriel’s side through it all and does not ask him to give up his fight because it is the safe thing to do. To me, this is true love, trusting your partner to make the best decision possible for themselves, rather than taking their choice from them. While this might not be the sort of romance where we get epic make out scenes, it’s still a worthy one in it’s courage.
Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows And The Black General Gabriel by Gigi Amateau definitely belongs in classroom and school libraries. It portrays a part of history that as a total history nerd, I don’t often read or hear about, and thus is important. However, I do think mileage will vary with this book. I loved it, but I am also, like I said, a history nerd interested in multicultural history. It’s quite readable on a young adult level, middle grade is probably stretching it. If you are similar to me when it comes to pursuit of the past and don’t need a torrid romance, then yes, I would totally recommend this book to you.
Disclosure: Received for review.