Come August, Come Freedom: The Bellows, The Gallows, and The Black General Gabriel by Gigi Amateau is a young adult novel based on the true story of a slave who plotted a rebellion in 1800. The author draws on historical events beyond those immediately occurring in Richmond, Virginia, inserting within the novel documents from the period to complement the narrative.
Through the eyes of Gabriel, the reader witnesses the suffering experienced under slavery. The novel begins with Gabriel’s birth on July 4, 1776, an obviously auspicious day for all Americans except those born into slavery. The experiences that lead to Gabriel’s eventual need to lead an uprising are told in sparse, occasionally beautiful prose.
Telling the story, rather than showing it, is a violation of one of the most basic rules of writing. It may have been a conscious choice on the author’s part. Should a novel written for young adults be explicit in describing the abuse experienced under slavery? Are young adult readers ready to read explicit descriptions of whippings, beatings, and rape? If Amateau’s intention was to protect her reader’s from the brutality of truth, is she doing a disservice to history? Her audience?
In my mind, the answer is a resounding yes. I read Roots by Alex Haley when I was 15. While I might not go so far as to suggest that a novel written for young adults should be quite as graphic as possible but to gloss over a subject is to not give it due respect and the American history of slavery deserves to be respected and given full weight.
As a result, the novel lacks an emotional strength it could have easily attained with one or even two more honest scenes. It would have shown a justified faith in the audience. Young adults are not merely eager to be treated like adults but are often ready to be treated as such. Reading a novel that treats them with respect will empower them to mature into more sophisticated reading material, giving them the intellectual resources that will carry over into making lifelong decisions.
In the end, this is a good story which lacks emotion, passion, and uncompromising truth.