As the seventh of thirteen children Johnny Rankin is eager to establish a place for himself in his large family, and wants to prove himself by helping in the family business of conducting slaves through the Underground Railroad. But Johnny has trouble keeping secrets, and based on the way that he blurted out information in the past, neither his father nor the rest of his family, thinks that he can be trusted to help with such an important and dangerous undertaking.
One night when a slave woman, Eliza, arrives at the Rankin household looking for help, Johnny gets to see firsthand the way his family springs into action and each plays their part in rescuing slaves, but afterward Johnny is sent to live with his brother for a time so that the family can continue to protect their secret. A couple of years pass and once again the Rankin family has to help a woman in need. Will they be able to depend on Johnny to help and more importantly will he be able to keep quiet?
I enjoyed this wonderful book about the Underground Railroad and the Rankin family. The fact that the story was closely based on real events added to the impact that it had as I discovered more information about how the story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin came into existence. I loved the rich use of detail and was fully drawn in by the vivid descriptions of the safe houses and the methods that the families used to help the escaping slaves to safety in other locations. The real joy however comes from the rich characterizations of the Rankin family and the inhabitants of the town, getting to experience the different personalities and eccentricities and also seeing the way the community comes together to help the Rankin family.
The novel unfolded through a series of narratives that alternated with Johnny Rankin and also a slave, Eliza, whom the Rankin family helped to escape. Having Eliza speak in the novel anchored the story to just how much was at stake, and I was riveted by her experiences in trying to escape and saw the danger firsthand as she took the necessary steps to get herself family to freedom.
Written for young adults, and advertised in the Religious/Christian genre, this novel offers much to those beyond those audiences. The story was written in such a complex way that even an adult would be fascinated and eager to see how everything worked out. The religious aspect of he story came across in the faith of the Rankin family (the father was a preacher), and I enjoyed the way the family was consistent in applying their religious faith to their life, and is non-intrusive to those who don’t usually read this type of fiction. This novel is a great mix of love, duty, mystery, suspense and history. The Light Across the River by Stephanie Reed was an exciting read, and definitely a page turner.