Simon & Schuster
This is a stunning debut from a very talented young author (she's 18 and attends Harvard University). I was more than a little apprehensive about picking up this book because I haven't been in the mood to read yet another slave narrative. They are depressing and speak to a history that is incredibly hard to be proud of. While this novel is somewhat predictable and redundant in its facts about the horror of slavery, it has a very strong message to it concerning education. I think that in the author's goal to have the book be used as a teaching tool for children, her message overpowers the book in some parts. It puts a human face on the struggles of slaves; Sarah goes through so much and she is so determined to get an education. It made me think long and hard about how many of my fellow African American students (and it's not just us, but I'm focusing on us today) dismiss the educational opportunities they have, we waste them by not reaching to our full potential, we mess around in school (I'm guilty of doing that sometimes too!). I can honestly say this novel made me feel bad for complaining all the time about having to go to school, while I didn't stop completely I do try to complain less.
Something that really bothered me about this novel was that the language seemed to be too-flowery (does that make sense?) It was very formal and it was hard to believe that an uneducated slave would speak in such precise words. However, the author does have a great way with words, she describes scenes that leap off the pages. "Then, one night, as snow fell steadily, heaven must have decided to turn all the elements of nature against me. Down came icy rocks, hurled my way as if the skies were taunting me for the slowness of my pace. I dropped down and tried to shield myself, but they came crashing upon my back and shoulders. I fought to get up again, to seek shelter. My throat burned while the rest of me shook with cold. With the surrounding land mocking me as I stumbled over its bumpy surfaces and my own feet, I searched for refuge from heaven's assault." (pg. 186-187) At times Good Fortune seemed tedious, I think that some pages could have been cut out (it's 470 pages!) because many pages simply have to do with planning and waiting, planning escapes, waiting for the right time. I'm not going to go into much detail about what this novel covers about slavery because it covers much of the hardships; the beatings, the rape (it's not at all graphic though, merely hinted at), the death, the danger of escape, etc.
However, this novel is unique because it has a love story. The love story between Sarah and John helps lighten the horrific situation of slavery, they are young and in love and it's adorable. They face hardship, in large part because Jeffrey (the slave owner's son) wants to keep them apart and he holds the power. Their love is based on hope and trust and they wait. And wait. It's a bittersweet ending. Sarah herself carries the novel. She is incredibly naive, but she has a strong and persistent voice, she will become educated and she will one day marry John.
Good Fortune avoids the trap of being yet another depressing slave story due to the author's magical way with words, the determined main character and surrounding characters (her adopted brother, Daniel, her Aunt Mary, her friend Florence) and the tender love story. I think that at times the author tries too hard to get her message about the importance of education into the reader's head, but it's an important message that needs to be reiterated. I wish that the author had either eliminated Sarah's memories of Africa or more fully explained them because seeing them only though Sarah's hazy flashbacks and nightmares provides confusion for the reader. I will definitely be looking for future work by Noni Carter, her debut was incredibly well researched and showcases her talent with words. Do not let your fear of reading about slavery keep you from missing out on this story.