Pearsall, Shelley. 2002. Trouble Don't Last. New York: Yearling. ISBN: 9780440418115
Samuel is an eleven-year-old slave. He was born into slavery, but Old Harrison, an old slave on the same farm as Samuel, grabs him one night and runs with Samuel towards freedom. Throughout the book, the reader travels on a journey to freedom with the two characters where they meet with unusual characters, treacherous adventures, and ultimate reward.
This book is capturing in many ways. I had to finish it in one day because I had to find out what happened to Samuel and Old Harrison. First, the author sets an authentic setting with wonderful dialect. Conversations with comments like," Now, let's git them hogs fed 'fore they start chewin up the walls," create the southern feel and colloquialisms.
Second, the vivid descriptions of the interaction between Samuel and the other slaves and Mas'er Hackler and his family create a stirring in the reader to want to do something to help Samuel. Anger swells as as Mas Seth trips Samuel, causing him to break a dish and creating an uproar in the house. The author creates a sense of urgency that Samuel must escape and thankfully he does. Another way the author urges the reader to take up the cause of freedom is to describe from a young boy's perspective the wounds on Old Harrison's back. "I had seen them a hundred times, and seeing them always brought the snake twisting back around my throat. I couldn't do a thing but look again. The terrible stripes tore back and forth like the jagged scars that lightning makes when it splits through the bark of trees." Although brief, the description leaves the reader feeling like Samuel did--"Seeing them just made me feel weak all over and sick."
On the journey, the author keeps the story lined up with historical evidence. Many of the places like the homes people hid runaways in, the river crossing, and the network of help are all historically accurate. The interesting characters like the widow Lucy Taylor who still saw and talked to her dead husband provide a light note in an otherwise somber journey.
Finally, the author creates a feeling of suspense. The reader is often left wondering if Samuel will face the end result many runaway slaves did: recapture and punishment if not death. The final challenge when Samuel is captured and must finally believe and present himself as free is wonderful. He learned to "walk free" and his courageous act won him not only his freedom but those with him.
The author gives us a fabulous ending, one where Samuel's mom is there waiting for him in freedom and all those involved live happy lives.
Kirkus Review: "This succeeds as a suspenseful historical adventure with survival at stake and makes clear that to succeed Harrison and Samuel, as well as others, must never give up even while combating manhunters, bloodhounds, mental illness, disease, hunger, cold, and their own despair."
This book would be great in an ELA classroom for discussion on dialogue and suspense. It would also serve well either in excerpts or in whole during a lesson on the Underground Railroad or slavery.