I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed The Freedom Maze. While I like historical fiction, I’m very picky about the time periods I choose, and neither of the time periods featured in The Freedom Maze (1860s and 1960s American South) are ones I normally seek out. But audiobook selection is limited and this one won the Nebula (Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book), so I gave it a shot.
It’s 1960 and thirteen-year-old Sophie has been forced to spend the summer with her aunt and grandmother at the old family estate in Louisiana. It used to be a large plantation, home to a wealthy family and many slaves in the 1800s. It’s much reduced in the 20th century, but the old ideas still linger in the mind of Sophie’s grandmother and mother.
Sophie resents being there so much that she wishes she were somewhere else – a place where she has a family and friends who care about her, something she feels is missing in her current situation. This wish is overheard by a magical trickster being, who sends Sophie 100 years back on time to 1860, but leaves her right where she is physically.
No one recognizes Sophie when she shows up at the plantation 100 years in the past, and due to her tan and her frizzy hair, Sophie is mistaken for a slave. She’s assumed to be the pale daughter of the family’s white brother from New Orleans and his female slave, but a slave nonetheless. From there, the story takes Sophie to the big house as a house slave, then to the fields and the sugar house of the sugar plantation. Along the way, Sophie comes to care for the slaves she works with and comes to a greater understanding of the history behind the racial tensions she’s experienced in the 1960s.
More than that, though, her wish is fulfilled: she has friends and a family who risk their lives for her. And Sophie, in her turn, risks her life for theirs. She also does a good bit of growing up. This is historical fiction but also very much a coming of age story. In that way, it feels a bit retro. I think it’s definitely one my mother would have picked out for us to listen to on a long car trip.
Audiobook provided by the publisher.