Black Angels by Linda Beatrice Brown 2009
IQ "But something had happened that made him different. He didn't know what it was, but he couldn't bring himself to tease her that way. A part of him was gone, and some other part was there instead. Part of him wanted to understand why men would fight and die like pigs being slaughtered, and part of him wanted to prove that he wasn't afraid of what he had seen anymore. For the first time he really knew he had blood in his body that could spill out in the dirt, and nobody might not even see it, or even care, not the way he cared when they beat Mam to death. How could people just kill you and leave you in the dirt to rot?" pg. 48-49
After I Am Apache, I needed some sure to be good historical fiction. Black Angels was definitely it. I was feeling pretty confident since it's gotten great reviews from Sharon Flake and Nikki Giovanni! Black Angels is about three children living in the South during the Civil War. Luke is an elven year old runaway slave who wants to be a soldier for the Union. He's heard that a group of Union soldiers are in Virgina so he leaves his home in North Carolina. While traveling to find them he meets Daylily a precocious nine-year-old runaway slave whose lost in the woods. Later on they meet Caswell, a seven year old white Southerner, son of a plantation owner. All the children are orphans and lost. Luke eventually decides to temporarily stop looking for the Union soldiers in order to help Daylily and Caswell reach a safe place.
Conflicts as seen through the eyes of children are rarely portrayed in fiction, it's usually shown through the eyes of teenagers or adults. I really liked reading the book and seeing how the Civil War affected children. I also liked how the book explores the role some Native Americans played in the Civil War. Naturally, Caswell is spoiled and looks down on Luke and Daylily. Daylily is rather like a mother-hen always looking out for Caswell and Luke. Luke was my favorite, I think in part do to his being the oldest and most mature, but at the same time he was very sweet, brave and innocent. All the children were brave and innocent and watching them come of age (as cliche as that sounds) was a very captivating and pleasant experience as you see them not only make progress on their physical journey to Harper's Ferry, but on their mental journey to maturity.
A crucial part of the story is Betty Strong Foot. Betty is an excellent character and really adds an extra element to the story. Betty is half Seminole and half Black and it's very interesting reading about how she feels about the Civil War and whose side she's on. All the secondary characters added something, they were all three-dimensional. also, the children go through various experiences, but it doesn't seem forced or drawn out, it's very natural. Sometimes, I would be nearly breathless with anticipation, I got so caught up.
Luke, Daylily and Caswell have a beautiful friendship. I liked how they don't all bond immediately and at certain points in the story you still aren't so sure about Caswell (will he turn them in, abandon them as soon as they reach freedom or come across Confederate soldiers?). However, they are all brave and they look out for each other. Caswell is probably the most riveting character as he struggles against all that he's been taught.
"'I spect it's colored folks everywhere,' Luke said. Don't you?
'Not in Heaven,' said Caswell.
Luke turned, suddenly and fiercely, and faced Caswell. 'I done already tole you. My mama is there,' he said quietly, 'and don't you never say that again.'
'Luke, it's just cause...cause, well, how come I never seen a picture of a Black angel? They're always White in our Sunday school Bible. Mamadear had White angels on her wall and..."
I loved the ending although there was one tiny question left in my mind. I highly recommend this book to younger readers since I think they will like reading about children their own age going through the Civil War, it will help them connect to a war that happened so long ago. I love good historical fiction! 6th grade and up.
Disclosure: Received from publisher Putnam Penguin's Young Readers. Thanks Stacy!