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216 pages
Apr 2008
Kregel Publications

The Light Across the River

by Stephanie Reed

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Stephanie Reed, author of The Light Across the River, makes it clear that being part of the Underground Railroad was a very exciting adventure, yet one that required much care and responsibility. Johnny yearns to be an important part of the Railroad with his family, but when will his father be able to trust him? Will Johnny ever learn to control his tongue so his father can trust him with secrets that matter?

Reed keeps the story moving chronologically through a little more than a yearís time. At 11 years old, Johnny is proud of his brothersí and fatherís work and is anxious for acceptance into their world. He runs into a slave escapee, Eliza, who quickly becomes a close friend. Her extreme courage and unwavering faith become motivating factors in helping Johnny grow into the man he knows he needs to be. A very dramatic scene is when Eliza is escaping from Kentucky with her infant son Mose. She finds the river ice has begun to break up and melt. Itís either cross with the likely chance of drowning or be whipped and sold to a stranger. She trusts God for each step across the floating chunks of ice.

Everyone in the town of Ripley seems to know that Johnny canít keep a secret. He has been taught by his family the wisdom of Proverbs 21:23: ďHe who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from troubles.Ē Nevertheless, he lets Elizaís story slip to a family friend, and the stark reality of his own weakness causes him to wonder whether he will cause Eliza to be recaptured. It takes near death situations in the Rankin family to bring him to the awareness of the importance of holding oneís tongue. His care for Eliza and his understanding of the seriousness of the work lead him into manhood and an active role as a helper in assisting the slaves to freedom.

Johnny has a tender heart and longs to be heroic, but his immaturity and quick tongue shatter his dreams through most of the story. The ridicule he gets from his family and the community makes him overly self-conscious of his weakness. His fatherís wisdom in setting restraints on Johnny, yet still endeavoring to train him, is exemplary. When Eliza enters the story, Johnnyís role in helping the slaves becomes more of a reality than a fantasy.

Although it takes a few chapters for the action to build, this story becomes very intense and hard to put down. It contains all you could want in an historical novel. Danger, courage, suspense, corruption and heroism are carefully woven throughout. The Rankin family and their friends exhibit Christ-like attributes of love, courage, and a lack of vengeance toward their enemies. The author tries to tie in a little romance now and then, which doesnít seem helpful for the age group of the reader. Otherwise, lessons in history, responsibility, and in trusting your parents make the book excellent for pre-teen to teen years. The story is very enjoyable and exciting to read. Karin Litchfield,

Book Jacket:

In this powerful sequel to Across the Wide River, the Rankin home is still a beacon of freedom on the Underground Railroad. Johnny, the seventh of thirteen children in the Rankin family, is growing up quickly and in 1837 is eager to take on the same responsibilities as the rest of his family. But Johnnyís father and his brother Lowry think Johnny is too young and too hotheaded to help with something as important and secretive as the Underground Railroad. Johnny understands the need for secrecy, but sometimes the secret is just too good to keep to himself! This engaging novel for young adults offers a further glimpse into a dark period of Americaís past, and profiles the courageous and godly people who helped bring about its end.