Thursday, February 21, 2008


Ferris, Jean. 2007. Underground. Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

Underground is the story of slaves that, through varying paths, find themselves working at the Mammoth Cave Hotel in 1839. The hotel houses visitors stopping to see Kentucky’s natural wonder, Mammoth Cave.

Life for Charlotte and the other slaves is comparatively good at Mammoth Cave Hotel, but Charlotte knows of a worse life as a slave in the Deep South. Stephen is content with his limited autonomy as an underground guide. Brothers, Nick and Mat, are thankful for regular meals and little trouble from their master. Mittie, the elder slave of the group, is quiet and serious and keeps her opinions to herself.

Thh slaves' lives are changed when a “runner” from the south appears on the hotel property. Now Charlotte must make a choice about the "underground," both literally and figuratively, that will affect them all, as Mammoth Cave and the Underground Railroad become entwined.

Although Mammoth Caves was not likely a stop on the Underground Railroad, most of the characters in this story were real persons. Charlotte and Stephen’s names are still scratched or smoked onto the walls of the caves. An Author’s Note explains which occurrences in the story actually happened. Ferris also reveals the fates of the four young slaves.

Historical fiction fans should enjoy this book. It is cataloged as a YA book, but seems more appropriate as J Fic. Discussions of the slaves' parentage may have prompted the YA label. Several brief references are made to masters fathering children with unwilling slaves.

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