The Candle Star (Divided Decade Trilogy)

Written by Michelle Isenhoff

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This is the first book in a trilogy examining the Civil War through the Underground railroad setting in Michigan in 1858. In this first volume, the protagonist is fourteen year old Emily whose petulant personality and insolent behavior has resulted in her parents’ shipping her off to stay with an uncle in Michigan. Emily has never been off the Ella Wood plantation in the Carolinas. She presumes her life will be much the same, and her faithful slave Zeke tries to make her comfortable.

Things turn out very differently. Emily will not have a tutor, she will have to walk to a school, do chores in her Uncle Issac’s inn, and learn to deal with free slaves who are her equal. Emily rebels at once, she steals a neighbor’s horse, skips school, and treats the household members as if they were “her slaves.” Her uncle refuses to give in to her; he cringes when she befriends slave bounty hunters from Virginia as her equals. Emily is curious to find out what her uncle writes in a small book hidden in a secret compartment. But gradually she must learn to respect another way of thinking, her black friend Malachi makes her realize that her way of thinking may be jaded. He encourages her to pursue her dreams of painting and not to limit her goals to become a proper Southern plantation wife.

Isenhoff has done her research. She introduces characters based on real prototypes like Frederick Douglass and George deBaptiste. Her language is smooth and polished. Take the following excerpt: “Emily looked the boy over. He had skin the color of strong tea before the cream was added, and his eyes were as dark as the midnight sky.” The reader quickly assimilates himself into the character. Only complaint I have is that the story line sometimes seems to move too slowly, but it is certainly not predictable. There are many twists and turns and lots of surprises before Emily is ready to return home to her plantation. Changes are on the horizon for the country. Will Emily be successful in acclimating herself to a changed order? What will happen to her uncle and staff at the River Inn?

I would recommend this book to children and adults age ten and up. There are lots of issues that middle grade students are facing that are addressed in the book irrespective of the difference in time period. Any reader who enjoys history, character study and good writing will enjoy this book series. Classroom teachers and librarians should consider it a good resource to a study of the pre-Civil War period from a humanistic point of view.

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