Jennifer's Reviews > Elijah of Buxton

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
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's review
Feb 01, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: children-young-adult, minority-author-or-topic, newberry-honor, african-american-and-black
Recommended for: everyone
Read in February, 2008

Despite that I liked Curtis’s lively, colorful, convincing portrayal of everyday life in Buxton, I felt that Elijah of Buxton had a slow start. However, towards the middle of the novel, when Curtis began weaving individual Buxton residents' escape and slave stories into Elijah’s daily experiences, I slowly came to love the book. As I was reading the novel on a CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus, I found myself tearing up, suddenly struck by what Elijah and his mother would call being “fra-gile-ness,” while I was reading the scene in which the new escaped family arrives in Buxton. I loved the way in which Curtis incorporated the stories of many of Buxton’s free blacks to develop believable, human characters, show the myriad, torturous paths to freedom (or back to slavery), and the enduring pain that continues to linger under the surface of free Buxton. By beautifully developing his characters and binding them to readers' hearts, Curtis manages to convey the full sadness and horror of the Buxton residents' experiences without extreme graphical violence or an overly heavy story. We, as well as Elijah, are reminded that “people that used to be slaves are toting things ‘round with ‘em that caint be seen with your regular eyes….They’ve seen people acting in ways that caint help but leave scars and peculiarities” (101). By extension, these “scars and peculiarities” continue to lay beneath many of societies' present ills. We as a society oftentimes unknowingly hurt and offend, deserving the same rebuke that Mr. Leroy gives Elijah for using the word “nigger”: “Ya’ll’s ignorant in a whole slew of ways. Y’all ain’t been told your whole life what you is" (99).

In my opinion, Elijah of Buxton is largely the story of the title character coming of age through learning about his heritage, not necessarily in the classroom with Mr. Travis, but through hearing the stories of his community and experiencing the legacy of fear and violence, and ultimately, joy in freedom and H(h)ope. Curtis sprinkles others’ stories into the novel, and I thought to myself while reading the novel, “The title of the novel is *Elijah* of Buxton, so why does it seem like so little time is spent on the narrative episodes of his experience?” It occurred to me while writing this, that, simply, Elijah’s story is the story of the community of Buxton and vice versa. As alluded to earlier, Elijah’s story is our story, the story of individuals making sense of the world around them, of learning and becoming “growned up,” which I think that Curtis conveys wonderfully through Elijah’s comically confused, sometimes naïve observations of the world around him. With this method, Curtis captures the feeling of disconnect and confusion we oftentimes feel when something is beyond the scope of our understanding and experience. This is one of the reasons why I think that this novel would be good for educating children, as well as adults, who are largely unfamiliar with the broad repercussions of slavery, or who cannot associate the legacy of slavery with a human face with which to empathize.

Other things that I admired about this novel were its uncompromising immediacy, realism, and complexity. Although it may seem far-fetched that Elijah encountered Frederick Douglass or talked to captured slaves, Curtis recounts realistic stories about slavery through believable and well-developed characters. The stories about slavery, escape, and life in Buxton do not contain shocking graphical descriptions, yet they retain a strong emotional punch.
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