Gloria Ann Wesley’s If This Is Freedom is a companion to her 2011 work Chasing Freedom. The newest historical novel details the travails of Sarah Redmond, a Black loyalist pioneer in Nova Scotia’s Birchtown settlement, from 1783 to 1794. Although Sarah escapes slavery in the American colonies, she discovers chronic indebtedness can be a devastating form of bondage as well. Much of what occurs to the Redmond-Cooper family over this span of time is a consequence of a minor theft. After Sarah liberates a penny loaf of bread from her corrupt employers she first loses that job, then her family is forced into tenant farming, and finally her beloved son Jacob is kidnapped. Of course, the physical environment of “Nova Scarcity” plays its role in promoting misery—a wildfire will destroy a significant portion of Birchtown, a devastating hurricane then batters much of what is left, and lastly a smallpox outbreak will haunt communities throughout Shelburne County. Readers will learn about eighteenth century food, African colonization schemes, indentures, bloodletting, racism, sexism, classism, and privateering (there is even buried treasure!). Sarah Cooper may be fictional, but much of her life as part of early British North America’s underclass rings true. Over the course of the novel she works as an independent tailor, indentured servant, hardscrabble farmer, untrained nurse and teacher, and regularly serves as the head of a family whose fortunes seem to be primarily controlled by corrupt businessmen and government officials. In the end, she perseveres against tremendous odds and sets sail with her loved ones for a new home.
While apparently aimed at students in grades 7 to 9 (the length of the novel and the reading level suggest a teen/young adult audience), this work will prove interesting for good readers of all ages. The publishers have indicated the author is creating a teaching guide and the novel would be especially suitable for intermediate/senior high school Language Arts instructors seeking engaging materials (meaning it should not just be restricted to African Heritage/Black History month initiatives).
[Review by George Sheppard.]