|I thoroughly enjoyed this book!
It is the story of Cora, a pre-Civil War era slave who was abandoned by her mother as a child. She lives and grows up on the plantation where she was born, but having no mother, is considered an outcast and is made to live in the undesirable part of the slave quarters. While she mostly keeps to herself, she will defend her small plot of land or the slave children, sometimes to the tune of her own punishment. When a fellow slave asks her to join him on his escape, she agrees with only a few days hesitation. This is where the book takes off.
This story is a heart pounding and heart wrenching chase throughout. Colson’s literal depiction of the Underground Railroad as a physical underground railroad is just enough of a twist to keep this from being a run of the mill slave escape story. This is exactly how many of us envisioned the Underground Railroad as children, when we first learned of it…and this is what Colson’s imagination ran with. Unfortunately there are many who have read this book that find this twist to be too apocryphal given what really happened, and feel this is misleading and confusing to some readers. (I’m assuming they are side-eyeing ‘the children’, for whom we don’t give enough credit.) To those readers who feel this way, shame on you for forgetting the very simple difference between fiction and non-fiction.
Cora finds herself amazed at the work that was put in to something so large yet invisible…by slaves just like her- an entire network of underground tunnels and rails. She also learns that while things were bad and quickly getting worse at the plantation, that things on the outside are sometimes worse…even for those who are not slaves.
Will Cora find safety in the North? Will she find the mother that abandoned her? Will she forgive her for abandoning her as a child? Will the slave catchers find her and send her home for certain death? This is the thrill of The Underground Railroad.