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292 pages. Recommended for teens and adults. Not for the faint at heart. Parental guidance advised; although there is no graphic sex, it is discussed.
This historical novel follows young Zeke from boyhood to young adult. Born in 1850 to a poor southern farmer, Zeke is befriended by a slave from a neighboring plantation, who teaches Zeke many of the skills that he will need to survive in a difficult world. As a boy, Zeke learns harsh lessons that trouble him for life and mold him into the admirable man he eventually becomes.
Zebedee’s Bluff had the appearance of paradise. It had rustic roads, mountain streams, flowers that bloomed brilliantly in spring, and perhaps the purest air in the southern United States. Each morning, the residents were greeted by a clean heavenly mist that soon dissipated as the morning sun warmed the earth. That little piece of paradise was Zeke Thompson’s birthplace. However, if you ever met Zeke and asked him where Zebedee’s Bluff was located, he would say it was south of Devil May Care, north of I Don’t Give a Hoot, slightly west of Deaf and Dumb, and east of My Crap Don’t Stink. That was because Zeke had conflicting memories of Zebedee’s Bluff’s residents: a few good memories of his mother, his good friend Jason, and Miss Bella, and a few disturbing and powerful memories of his father, his good friend Jason, and the Graysons. If the latter memories clouded his mind, he shook them out by doing extraordinary things. At times, his actions were rash and cocky, and at other times, they were brave and admirable. Most of what he did, however, was because he had a heart of gold.
Annabella (aka Bella) Russell arrived at Zebedee’s Bluff a couple of dozen years before Zeke’s birth. She was a former New York socialite. As fate would have it, Bella, an abolitionist’s daughter, married a Southern slave owner. Blinded by love....
Zeke remembered his father’s words, “If a man don’t provide, he don’t eat.” He felt an obligation to provide for himself and his mother, for he noticed how hard she worked at numerous tasks. Using a branch and knotting several segments of fishing line that he had saved earlier, Zeke fashioned a fishing pole and headed for the stream. Under the morning sun, the water was crystalline as it rushed over the shimmering rocks. Zeke noticed that the Negro he had met at Mr. Vernon’s store was standing in the middle of the stream with a pole in hand. Jason, in turn, observed the youngster as he awkwardly attempted to cast his line from the shore.
“It’s best if you stands in the middle of the creek,” he advised the boy from afar. “The fish ain’t gonna come to you. Come out here and I’ll shows you.”
Zeke remembered what Jericho had said about the slave, but he decided he didn’t share his daddy’s views. He had nothing against this man who had attempted to give him licorice. In his opinion, it had been a kind gesture, and Jericho had behaved improperly toward the Negro, even if the man was a slave.
When Zeke reached his side, Jason examined the boy’s fishing line. A safety pin was attached to the end of the line segments. Jason sighed inwardly at the boy’s fishing tool. He tightened the knots on the line and hoped for the best.
“You’re lucky I happens to have an extra hook,” Jason said, removing his old felt hat and freeing a hook from the fabric. “I hopes your line holds up. Maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to catch small fish.”
The line snapped with the first fish, and the fish took the hook with him. The boy was disappointed.
“Don’t fret, boy. There’s more than one way to catch fish. I have my net strung up. If you don’t mind, I’ll shares my catch with you.”
Zeke looked up at Jason. “How come you knows so much about fishing? My daddy said that slaves picks cotton and other crops.”
“Slaves do a lot of things, boy. Master Jonah and his missus has me do a lot of things because they says that I is responsible and I does things right. I needs to do things right—I have my own family to look after.”
“Slaves ain’t got family. You is property.”
“I has a daughter a might younger than you is, and I has to do what is right to care for her and her mama. As long as I provides for Mr. Russell and his family, I can takes care of my own. A man learns to live by the rules and makes no waves.”
“What does you mean?”
“I will explains it to you some day if I can trust you.”
“You caine trust me.”
“We’ll see, Master Ezekiel.”
“How come you knows my proper name? We ain’t been innerduced. I mean, we’ve howdied, but we ain’t shook yet.”
“Well, I knows your name, Master Zeke,” Jason said as he looked at the small boy with a broad smile. He introduced himself and extended his hand. The boy smiled up at him with an infectious grin and accepted Jason’s hand. The slave eventually sent Zeke home with a few fish and an invitation to meet him the next day. The boy and the man inevitably established a lasting and painful friendship.
In the meantime, Zeke had kept gazing down at the station from the top of the coal car. He saw Mortimer and the other two men climb off the train. They were still milling about when the train pulled out. As the train followed the curved train tracks beyond the station at five miles per hour, he saw Jackson jump off the train. The man missed his footing and appeared to have hurt his ankle as he landed and rolled into the untamed brush. The coals under Zeke’s legs were uncomfortably hot with the heat they had absorbed from the unrelenting sun. The only protection against the scorching sun was the black cloud of smoke that danced above him from the engine’s chimney. He folded Abner’s jacket and sat on it. He used the shirt and trousers to afford additional protection from the merciless heat on his back and legs. After a while, Zeke couldn’t tolerate the stink of Abner’s clothes. He reached into his pocket, fished out a handkerchief, and draped it over his mouth and nose. With the rhythm of the train and the tireless heat, he eventually drifted off to sleep while resting his back against the hot wall of the car.
He didn’t know how long he had been out. The loud train whistle, announcing the next stop, woke him and nearly deafened him. He cast off Abner’s clothing and waited for the train to enter the station. His mouth was bone dry. He hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since the night before. His head felt two sizes too large, and his vision was blurred, the effects of dehydration. He noticed the location of the horse troughs at the station. Unlike the previous stop, at this station, the passenger cars’ windows and exit doors faced inward, toward the station. As soon as the train stopped, he climbed down from the car the same way he had climbed up, using an attached ladder. With the hem of his pants rolled up to his crotch, he headed directly for a horse trough and plunged himself into it. He figured that smelling like horse couldn’t be any worse than smelling like Abner. He closed his eyes and sighed with thankful relief as the cool water soothed his overheated body. The quiet celebration was short-lived.
“Zeke Thompson, you damn son of a bitch, where the hell are my clothes?” he heard Abner yell from across the way.
Zeke stood up from his cool respite to see Abner heading toward him at a steady clip while he held onto Jackson’s underwear with one hand to keep them from falling. While spectators laughed and startled women gasped at the nearly naked Abner, Zeke climbed out of the trough.
“Why don’t you stick your head down the latrine and follow the stink. They’ll be at the other end,” Zeke yelled back at Abner.
As Abner got closer, Zeke anticipated the worst. He remembered the fight that had suddenly ensued when he arrived at Coventry a few years ago. He remembered the widow and the six children and was overwrought with guilt for killing the children’s father. Despite the time he had spent as a soldier, he had never engaged in any type of combat. He had no fighting skills. So at Coventry, he utilized whatever defensive measure came naturally: ....
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"In this powerful book C. Scoushe Rosa has skillfully merged the shame of slavery with actual historical insights. She has managed to hold your undivided attention throughout the telling of the complexity of this shameful American story. The pain of the past is brought to life in the pages of this book to be read by all." - G. Powell-Palmer, Licensed Master Social Work, LMSW
"Heart-wrenching. Funny. Interesting and educational. Page-turning from beginning to end. I highly recommend it. The author has managed to intertwine actual historical figures with the entertaining fictional counterparts, giving Zeke Thompson, American Hero greater authenticity while she introduces diverse forms of discrimination. Any parent or teacher will find this an excellent addition to their child or student's library." - Catalina Zuniga, retired teacher
“… Zeke’s conviction stands out, and in this entertaining novel that reads as a Forrest Gump-type journey through mid-19th century America, he is a fine prism through which to view a complicated time in our nation’s history.
Fun and educational—a unique look at post-Civil War America.” – Kirkus Book Review