Barb Middleton's Reviews > Jefferson's Sons

Jefferson's Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
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's review
Feb 13, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historical
Read in January, 2012

Told from three points of view, the story begins with Beverly, the son of slave Sally Hemmings whose father happens to be Thomas Jefferson. He can’t understand why his father, Jefferson, won’t treat him like a son or why a great man like him would write “all men created equal” yet own his own children as property. Jefferson gives Beverly violin lessons and shows some interest but he never calls him son and he pays more attention to his nieces and nephews. Beverly desperately wants a relationship with his father but it will never happen. Maddy, another son of Sally and Jefferson, tells part two of the story. Maddy is angry with Jefferson and doesn’t even think of him as a father. Just when Jefferson seems like a nice man and gives Maddy some extra attention, he turns around and sells Maddy’s best friend, James, to another owner. Heartbroken, Maddy can’t understand how Jefferson could not see the evil in his actions. The third person, Peter Fossett, is a slave and close friend of the Hemings. Maddy looks out for him because he promised James he’d do so after James was sold to another family. Peter thinks life on Monticello is wonderful until he too realizes what is means to be a slave. A powerful ending.

This story is full of information and it is obvious the author spent many years researching it. It is a strength and weakness. The characters tell so much information that it reads at times like an expository text and not a fiction story. The dialogue in which two characters have a casual conversation ends up being a speech on slavery. I thought it slowed the story’s pace. I did think it was interesting how three of Jeffersons’ four slave children planned on passing as white people once they were free. Maddy’s skin is not light enough so he will not be able to live with white people after he is free. Beverly is torn about this and struggles with his decision to enter white society.

The children are illegitimate but because it is told from a child’s point of view it remains innocent. There is a whipping of a runaway slave that might upset some readers. The interesting thing about this book is that the author shows how intolerable slavery is and how a founding father, Jefferson, considered a brilliant and good man, just didn’t see how destructive and evil slavery was to families.

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