Wow! This artistically written book begins in the early 1800’s in Charleston, as Sarah, at her 11th birthday, is presented with the gift of her own slave, Handful. Repulsed even at this young age at the thought of owning another human being, she commits her first radical act by attempting to grant Handful her freedom. Thwarted by her family and by the entire culture of the South of that time, Sarah is unable to accomplish this, but her desire remains steadfast. As she grows, so do her beliefs in the evils of slavery. Likewise, Handful, inspired by her very tough “mauma” Charlotte (a rebellious, inspired, and complex character in her own right), has the urge that she must be destined for something better than remaining the chattel of another. She, too, has an independent spirit and she reaches out to achieve more. As their lives unfold, both Sarah and Handful remain tied by their past experiences and united in their pursuits of breaking from their past.
The writing in this book is stunning. As the narrative voice changes back and forth from that of Sarah to that of Handful, the story is enriched by the telling from both of their perspectives. There is stark imagery and a spiritual and spirit-ful undertone that winds through this tale. Religion and the Bible are frequently discussed as the author strives to depict the hypocritical use of the Bible to promote slavery and its evils. But it is hard to depart from your home and your history and Sarah struggles with this. It appears that both Sarah and Handful are slaves to their respective societies until they are able to break through in their own ways.
Their lives are full of great sadness, but of great hope as well. This is a beautiful story that no one should miss!