After reading a little about Noni Carter, I was very excited to buy her book Good Fortune to continue my search for black history. Ms. Carter is only 18 years old and currently attends Harvard. She grew up in Georgia listening to stories passed down through generations about her great-great-great-great grandma who came to the United States from Africa as a slave. How lucky their family is to have this oral history!
In a nutshell, the book tells of a girl who is taken from her family in Africa when she was four years old. (So as not to confuse anyone I don’t use a name because she has three names throughout the book). It is written in the first person as we accompany her on her journey. She is sold to a plantation in Tennessee where she becomes a house slave and is “adopted” by the black woman who oversees the household help. When she takes the white children to their lessons she stands close enough to the school house to listen to the teacher in order to educate herself. One day after learning that her brother plans to escape, she decides to go with him. She and her brother flee the plantation and eventually find themselves in a small, black-only residential area outside Dayton, Ohio.
Ms. Carter shares with us a compelling story about a young African American girl with all odds against her who never gives up on her long term goal of an education. This character finds creative ways to memorize what she learns and hide those facts in a time when it was illegal for her to have any sort of book knowledge.
At first I had a hard time following the book, and I hate to admit this because I realized it is a young adult book. The girl has several flashbacks to her time in Africa and she has a lot of dreams, I found this a little confusing at first. Ms. Carter is a poet and she writes beautifully but I found it a bit drawn out at times. However, once I gave the book some dedicated reading time, I enjoyed it a little more. My experience may have been more positive if my expectation was a story and not a history lesson.
This book is being compared by some critics to Roots by Alex Haley. After picking up a copy of Roots to re-familiarize myself, I searched for reasons why. They are both about Africans being sold into slavery in the United States. Ms. Carter’s book, however, is about one girl, Mr. Haley’s book spanned generations. Ms. Carter is a poet and that is evident in her writing style as she colorfully describes many situations. Mr. Haley was a journalist. Roots was ground-breaking, there had never been such a comprehensive book on black history ever written in the United States. Since Roots was published there have been many books about the slave trade. Perhaps there is a hope that Good Fortune will ignite a spark in young people to take an interest in their family history and even a different side of American history that is often overlooked. And we can’t ignore the fact that this story reiterates the importance of an education and what everyone can do with more knowledge. Roots is more than 30 years old now – Good Fortune is new and may appeal more to the YA reader.
In the end, I am glad I read Good Fortune and would certainly recommend it to young readers. This is Ms. Carter’s first book and I know we haven’t heard the last of her – remember, she’s only 18.