Landman, Tanya: Passing For White.
Passing For White
Barrington Stoke, 2017, pp136, 6.99 [pounds sterling] 978 1 78112 681 3
It is November 1847 and this taut fictional account opens with the heroine Rosa's first encounter with Benjamin, a black slave. Initially Benjamin takes Rosa's light complexion to mean that she is the lady of the house rather than also being a slave herself. In fact Rosa is the product of a liaison between her Mother and her owner's father--hence her ability to 'pass for white.' Benjamin and Rosa soon fall in love and are allowed by their respective Masters to marry. However, Rosa divulges to the reader that she is regularly abused by her Master which eventually results in her carrying a child.
Rumours of the famed Underground Railroad increase Rosa's desire to escape both her life of drudgery and the continued abuse. The couple form the idea of using her light colour to pose as a white person with a negro slave and to travel as such. However, as it would be unseemly to travel alone with a male, Rosa disguises herself as a man. The story unfolds as they travel north to the Free States but eventually due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 they are threatened with being returned to their owners. Rosa decides the only recourse is to make for Canada and then onwards to England.
The characters are entirely fictional but the tale is prompted by the actual escape from slavery of William and Ellen Craft and their eventual voyage to England. Landman's use of language is masterful and despite being in the Barrington Stoke format this is a suspenseful and fast-paced read. It had me gripped from the first chapter and would make an excellent addition to stock in a secondary school. The author occasionally and contextually uses the infamous 'N' word in her recounting and explains in her notes that she felt this was necessary to set the story in context. Librarians/Teachers may need to be aware of this when loaning the title to students.