Firebrand by Sarah MacTavish

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Our Score

Firebrand by Sarah MacTavish is a historical fiction novel about slavery that is recommended for young adults and adults (8th grade and up).

Synopsis:

Saoirse buried her older brother the day after they arrived in Texas. She blames herself for his death and so does her family. The only ones left who speak kindly to her are her cousin, Jack, and Abigail, the family’s loyal slave.

Saoirse and Jack want to free Abigail, but anti-slavery views are dangerous, especially after a series of fires destroys half the town. The slaves are suspected of plotting an insurrection.

Saoirse is determined to find out who actually started the fires, but every question puts her and her family in further danger.

Westleigh lives in the relative comfort and safety of Dove Hollow, Pennsylvania. His anti-slavery views, though not always popular with the people in town, are not a danger to him. That is, until he and his adoptive father take in a freedman as a favor. Westleigh overhears a conversation between his father and a long-time friend that makes him question what he knows about his past.

Pros:

  • I could not put this book down from the moment I cracked it open. Sarah MacTavish has a captivating writing style that pulls you into the characters’ journeys and lets you experience their heartbreak, joy, love, confusion, and desperation.
  • The fires mentioned in the book were a real event in North Texas that incited “The Texas Panic of 1860”. I live in the Dallas area and had never heard of this before, so it was interesting to learn a new piece of my local history.
  • Though not explicitly “Christian fiction,” the Bible is quoted throughout the book, and there are strong Christian themes of redemption and true freedom. Abigail and Jack have a strong faith and attend a secret church service at night with slaves in the area.
  • Jack and Abigail show love to Saoirse when she is rejected by her family.
  • Saoirse has a strong sense of justice and stands up for the right even when it puts her in danger.
  • Deep, well-developed characters and character journeys. All characters had depth and layers, including the ones I hated, and the ones I wanted to hate. Westleigh, who at first was rather unimpressive to me, made me change my opinion of him in Chapter 17. I love when characters surprise me!

Cons:

  • There is some minor language in this book, including “d—” and “h—” and derogatory language toward slaves.
  • A few disturbing scenes of slaves being sold in an auction and being beaten by their masters.
  • A girl is slapped across the face by her brother.
  • References are made to an infidelity and abuse.
  • This is the first book in a series (a little detail I did not realize until halfway through the book), and it ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger. Book 2 is not out yet.

Overall:

This is a fantastic story dealing with anger, guilt, and broken people searching for forgiveness. It handles the harsh realities of slavery in pre-Civil War United States with respect and fairness, without glorifying or dwelling on the ugly details.

The book forces the reader to ask the question, “What would I do in the face of injustice?” Recommended for young adults and adults (8th grade and up), especially those who love historical fiction, suspense-filled plots, and complex characters.

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Jessica Dowell on Blogger
Jessica Dowell
Jessica Dowell is a middle school humanities teacher. She enjoys reading and promoting great stories, especially fantasy and historical fiction. She is a history buff, a movie aficionado, and a crochet queen. Jessica lives in Texas with her husband and writes stories of her own.

Visit Jessica's website: http://Jessicalooksagain.blogspot.com.

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