The prologue provides a glimpse into the distant memories of 4-year old Ayanna, as her happy childhood in Africa was suddenly and violently disrupted when she and her brother were captured by slave traders and watched their beloved mother die. Then, the novel moves forward to 1821 when Ayanna is now known as Sarah and is a strong 14-year old working in the fields on a plantation in Tennessee. Her adoptive mother, Mary, cares for her like one of her own, and she is very close to her adoptive brother, Daniel, two years older than her, though she still misses her real mother and brother.
Mary works hard to convince Missus to give Sarah a place as a house slave, so she won’t have to do the back-breaking work out in the fields under the hot sun anymore. However, Mary and Sarah are both well aware that there are dangers inside the house, too, as Sarah approaches womanhood and begins to attract attention from Masta Jeffrey, the oldest son of the plantation owner. In addition, beatings are still a possibility for house slaves as well as field hands, sometimes for the smallest mistake or misunderstanding. Sarah struggles with cooking and other household chores, but she finds she enjoys her time caring for the younger children of the household. As they attend school and learn to read, Sarah begins to secretly learn with them…but if anyone were to find out, Sarah’s life would be in danger, as it is illegal for a slave to read or write.
This powerful, moving novel follows Sarah through her life as a teen and into adulthood. As Masta Jeffrey’s advances become more frightening, she and a few others on the plantation consider escaping to the north, though life for free blacks isn’t the ideal that many imagine it to be. Through all of her adventures, though, Sarah’s greatest passion is not only to learn to read but to get an education and to keep learning.
Good Fortune is a gripping, heart-breaking, and heart-warming story about a girl who is driven by a passion to learn. It’s also about her search for her identity, as she struggles with flashes of memory from her early life in Africa, yearning for her birth mother and brother, and being known by different names. At times, it is a difficult story to read, including scenes of slaves being brutally whipped and other life-threatening dangers Sarah encounters. But Sarah’s passion and spirit bring a strong element of hope and optimism to the book. It’s a fast-paced, exciting, and powerful story that I could barely stand to set down.
NOTE: Yearning to know more about what really happened to slaves and free blacks during this time period (as most novels about slavery are set closer to Civil War times), I was glad to see that the author included a Fact vs. Fiction section in the back to answer exactly those kinds of questions.