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Promises to the Dead

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  572 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
A white boy helps a young black runaway slave to freedom in Baltimore City, in the most dangerous days of the Civil War.
Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 8th 2002 by HarperCollins (first published 2000)
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Matt Macdougall
Oct 28, 2014 Matt Macdougall rated it liked it
Promises to the Dead, by Mary Downing Hahn, is a fast-paced, exciting, harrowing tale of two young boys on a quest for the safety of a slave child, whom had just lost his mother. Jesse Sherman, a young, unsuspecting, white boy, had simply been out to fetch something in a nearby swamp, when Lydia, an escaped slave, holds him at knife point. Lydia forces Jesse to take her son, Perry, to the safety of a white relative's home in Baltimore, right about when Civil War is breaking out. Lydia and Jesse ...more
Nov 07, 2010 Haley rated it really liked it
This book is very well crafted. There is so much action and commotion going on in every second of this story. The author used great text, making it much more interesting than most books. One thing that was kind of hard to follow is all of the characters. There were so many of them that it was hard to completely understand what was going on in the story at some points. I would have liked it even more if the story line was a bit easier to follow. Other than this one confusing stage of so many cha ...more
When Jesse is sent down to the marsh to hunt a turtle for the soup pot, he knows he's in for a miserable night--it's dark, it's rainy, and it's too early in the season for turtles anyway. Just as he's about to give up, there's a knife at his throat, and a runaway slave is begging him to go fetch the midwife, because this slave's baby is coming now. Unfortunately, labor doesn't go so well, and Jesse makes a promise to the dying Lydia to take her older son, Perry, to Baltimore to live with her whi ...more
C.C. Thomas
Jan 28, 2013 C.C. Thomas rated it really liked it
This is not a typical Hahn book and so, at first, I was a little disappointed. When I pick up a Hahn, I have been programmed to expect chills, thrills and goosebumps. Well, actually, some of that was true in this book, too, but not because of a scary ghost. The chills came from the living--which was so much more evil than anything undead.

The story is set during the Civil War (a historic setting was another departure for Hahn's regular style). Jesse is an orphan who lives with his bachelor uncle
David Arko
Dec 10, 2014 David Arko rated it it was amazing
This book was truly amazing. It started out with a sort of hard working boy named Jesse, and he was sent to catch a turtle for his Uncle Philemon to eat for dinner when he got caught by a slave woman (Lydia) and her son Perry. He ended up making a promise to take Perry to Baltimore to be safe, even though the could be caught on the way.It was dramatic at times too. I think the book really had some meaning and it was written from the heart. I don't think I could have been as brave as Jesse at tim ...more
Amey S.
Nov 04, 2013 Amey S. rated it liked it
This bool took place right before the civil war, a time not really considered but Mary Downing Hahn describes well. All 12 year Jesse wanted to do was get a turtle for his Philemon so they could have turtle soup to help his rheumatism. But things don't always go right like in Jesse's situation. He ran into runaway pregnant slave named Lydia with her 7 year old son Perry. Despite Jesse's efforts to get the town's healer woman Lydia dies of child birth along with her baby being stillborn. But the ...more
Dayna Smith
A departure from Hahn's creepy fantasy this is purely historical fiction. Set at the beginning of the Civil War, Jesse lives in Maryland, a state that has mixed loyalties. While hunting turtle in the swamp near his uncle's house, Jesse finds a pregnant runaway slave and her son. Lydia is dying and she makes Jesse promise to take her young son to his white aunt. Jesse and Perry must travel across Maryland and eventually into Virginia. They must face slave hunters and both Union and Confederate so ...more
Queen Entaille (caitlin
Dec 10, 2015 Queen Entaille (caitlin rated it it was amazing
I think this was an excellent book! I love the civil war and anything that has to do with runaway slaves. The way Mary Downing Hahn describes the places Jesse and Perry travel to make you feel like you are on this thrilling adventure with them. This book helps the readers understand the dangers of helping a runaway slave and how rough conditions were back then. I'm glad I was able to read this book, I defiantly will read some of this authors other books.
Josh Garnett
Jan 08, 2016 Josh Garnett rated it really liked it
Promises to the Dead was about a boy who's father sent him out to get a turtle when a slave woman, in labor puts a knife to his throat and needs him to get her a doctor. The beginning of the book was a bit slow for me, but as it went on suspense built and I couldn't wait till I had a chance to read it again. It was over all a great book and the outcome ends on a good note but could lead to a sequel.
Jun 09, 2013 Meghan rated it it was amazing
This book is about a young boy named Jesse Sherman who grew up at the time of the Civil War. While out hunting turtles for his uncle he meats a runaway slave women. Lydia ( the slave women ) is pregnant but she died. Before she died she made Jesse promise to take her son Perry to his aunt in the free states. But when things go wrong and people start chasing them the boys have to make a new plan to save themselves. To find out what happens read this amazing book.
I put off reading this even though it's been by my bed for weeks because MDH's books usually leave me shaking! I didn't need to worry this time. This is straight up Historical Fiction, set in Maryland at the outbreak of the Civil War. What made it interesting to me was that our main character Jesse is a pretty typical southern boy who has his ideas about freedom and slavery challenged and gently turned around as he tries to keep a young slave boy safe.
May 01, 2013 Peggy rated it it was amazing
This is an intense, fast-paced historical novel written by an incredible author. The setting is the Civil War, and the story revolves around Jesse who comes across a dying slave woman, who makes him promise he will take her young son, Perry, to a relative in Baltimore. The journey is quite treacherous, and they have to elude a slave catcher on their trail. As they face danger at every step, they must face harsh truths and find a new beginning. This book is one that I could not put down.
Larissa Wehling
Sep 23, 2010 Larissa Wehling rated it it was amazing
I learned A LOT about the Civil War and I LOVED it to the extreme Mary Downing Hahn does an amazing job about explaining the hardships and excitment through a young white boy who meets a runaway slave and ,before she dies, promises to take her 7 year old child Perry to Baltimore to Perry's aunt. But trouble strikes when a slave catcher follows them and is bound to catch them and bring Perry back, dead or alive.
Murphy L
Jan 28, 2010 Murphy L rated it it was amazing
I realy like this book because it teaches you about the slave times in the middle 1800's. it really opens your eyes to see what it was like to be in the slave times and what might happen to you if you helped a slave. I think that Mary Downing Hahn does a good job writing her books to make it feel like you are actuly in the story. I would suggest reading this book if you want to learn about a slaves life and the journey that they might go through trying to run away and what not.
Mar 01, 2012 Hollie rated it it was ok
I didn't enjoy this book as much as others I've read by this author. I started reading it several times only to lose interest and read something else. Set in Maryland at the beginning of the Civil War, an orphaned boy living with his crabby uncle stumbles across runaway slaves he decides to help and winds up traveling all over helping them.
Jan 24, 2013 Christopher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I won't waste your time telling about the story, since you can already read the summary of this book. But I can tell you I was pretty please with it, and I felt like I looked at the Civil War from a different perspective. This author never fails to impress me. I would recommend to children 10 or older, as well as adults!
Feb 27, 2010 Katrina rated it liked it
An historical fiction novel set in a time just before the civil war. I liked it even though the main character wasn't quite believable to me. I would give it 3.5 stars if I could. I recommend it younger people than us critical older folks, but you won't be sorry if you read it anyway - the adventure was entertaining and the history is interesting.
Jan 08, 2013 Nicole rated it it was ok
One of my 5th graders really liked & wanted me to read. Historical fiction, not really my thing. I was surprised that a 5th grader would enjoy with all the talk of how badly white men took advantage of black women, ending up with babies & all. Just not for me & had things I think only adults would understand.
Deana Starnes
Nov 15, 2009 Deana Starnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this book. Another of Mary Downing Hahn's. It is a bit different than her other's that I have read. In this one a boy happens upon a dying slave woman, makes a promise to take her son (who is also a slave) to her white friend. This is the journey of the 2 of them during the civil war. It has a happy ending and I enjoyed reading it.
Makena Cordero
Oct 04, 2013 Makena Cordero rated it liked it
It was a enjoyable book but I got lost through some of the book. It was cool to see what it was like back in the Civil War Era and see what people acted like back then. Through the book I was always interested to read more. I suggest this book to ages 10+ and for boys and girls who enjoy thrilling tales of someones life.
Mason Draper
Sep 05, 2013 Mason Draper rated it liked it
This book was pretty good. I usually don't like to read historical fiction, but this was pretty good. It starts really slow, but once you get past that part it gets exciting. It has a good story line and i learned a little about the Civil War. I would say read it for a historical fiction.
Brianna W.
Dec 05, 2011 Brianna W. rated it it was ok
this book is very interesting. it is about a boy promising to keep a run away slaves son safe and away from the slave hunter, while trying to get him to his family. it makes you want to keep reading it to see how the little boy reaches his destination.
Dec 13, 2011 Lori rated it really liked it
Excellent book. I was riveted. I liked this even better than the last Mary Downing Hahn book I read. There are some hard subjects in this book, but they are not investigated in detail. I recommend it for juvie lit (7th and above) and an easy read for grown-ups.
Meghan Radigan
Jun 27, 2013 Meghan Radigan rated it really liked it
All of Mary Downing Hahn's books leave you with a sense of enrichment. Promise's to the Dead wasn't an exception, and left me feelings enlightened. I highly recommend this book to any of Hahn's fans, or even someone who wants a good adventure story.
May 22, 2011 Brandi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a while to get into this book, although I think that may have been more about the mood I was in, but once I got about a quarter of the way through I was drawn in to the story. Great piece of historical fiction for middle-grade readers.
Apr 22, 2010 Tori rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set right before the civil war, a young boy makes a promise to a runaway slave to find a way to get her son to safety. It was interesting to read about some of unrest happening in different states at the time.
I usually enjoy reading anything Hahn writes, but this one falls flat. The characters are poorly developed. The villiam would not have acted they way he did considering how it ended - huge plot problem. I felt like I was being told a story instead of shown a story.
Jul 05, 2014 Sheila rated it it was amazing
This was a historical fiction and well worth the read! Kept me turning pages. What a twist at the end.
Jul 12, 2010 Annette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very engrossing story about a southern boy who helps a young slave escape to freedom. Lots of adventure and danger along the way.

Feb 18, 2010 Carol rated it it was ok
I read this book with G's 4th grade literature circle. It was not very well written, the ending was implausible, and I would not recommend it. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't good either.
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I grew up in a small shingled house down at the end of Guilford Road in College Park, Maryland. Our block was loaded with kids my age. We spent hours outdoors playing "Kick the Can" and "Mother, May I" as well as cowboy and outlaw games that usually ended in quarrels about who shot whom. In the summer, we went on day long expeditions into forbidden territory -- the woods on the other side of the t ...more
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