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24 September 2013

Review: The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell

The Other Side of Free 
(Summary and cover image from Goodreads)
It is 1739. Young Jem has been rescued from slavery and finds himself at Fort Mose, a settlement in Florida run by the Spanish. He is in the custody of an ornery and damaged woman named Phaedra, who dictates his every move. When Jem sets out to break free of her will, an adventure begins in which Jem saves a baby owl, a pair of runaway slaves, and, eventually, maybe all the residents of Fort Mose.

While Jem and the other characters are fictitious, the story is based on historical record. Fort Mose was the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in what is now the United States. In 1994 the site was designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009, the National Park Service named Fort Mose a precursor site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
I really enjoyed The Other Side of Free by Krista Russell.  The story was fast paced, the vocabulary wasn't inaccessible to your 4-6 grade age (give or take) reader, and the characters were really interesting.  
This is a subject that we haven't seen many books about, especially from the freed slave's point of view.  If anything, we read that once they escaped life was so much better.  The Other Side of Free, yes, talks about how life was better because they weren't mistreated, but it also talks about how the freed people at Fort Mose still weren't "free"---they had to pledge to the Spanish king, convert to Catholicism, and basically be cannon-fodder in case the English did attack the area.  Freedom comes at a price.

For some reason, I expected there to be some fantasy involved, especially after the conversations about Omen, conjuring, the Obia in the woods.  But then it wouldn't be historical fiction, and the story told would be very different and not as powerful.

I can see this being used at my school as a read aloud in history class.  While students in Virginia don't study Florida history, slavery is a topic that is important in our curriculum.  I don't see the fact that the story took place in Florida to be a hindrance, students need to see that it was wide-reaching and affected people in so many ways.  They learn that yes, slavery was bad, but with The Other Side of Free, they can have a better understanding of what freedom is and that while slaves may have become free, they were still treated differently.

I'd like to thank Peachtree Publishers for sending me an advanced readers copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

If you'd like to check out the other blogs on the tour, here you go!  There is an author post and giveaway on the Peachtree Publishers blog starting Thursday!
Kid Lit Reviews (
Maestra Amanda's Bookshelf
Guest post from Krista Russell on PTP blog (
Contest on PTP blog ( (I'll also be debuting our historical fiction pinterest board on this day)

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