Laura's Reviews > Elijah of Buxton

Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
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Elijah of Buxton is a fortunate child–fortunate to have been the first child born into the town of Buxton, Canada, a community of free blacks and escaped slaves founded by Presbyterian minister Reverend William King. He’s fortunate, but he’s also fragile and prone to gullibility and mischief. Elijah of Buxton relates Elijah life as he catches fish, throws rocks, plays tricks, learns a trade, and makes mistakes and rectifies them as best he can.

Along with these episodic adventures, Curtis includes a culminating adventure in which an unethical “Preacher” steals money from Mr. Leroy, a man whom Elijah works for and respects. Mr. Leroy has been saving to buy his family out of captivity in the South, and the Preacher’s theft drives him to desperate measures–measures which entail taking Elijah to America to catch the Preacher and to recapture the money. It is this final adventure that makes slavery real for Elijah such that he recognizes its horrors and comes to truly appreciate his freedom. “Fragile” Elijah grows up–recognizing that he can be sensitive and empathetic while also remaining courageous, steadfast, and true.

In Elijah of Buxton, Christopher Paul Curtis has once again brought history to life by creating a winning protagonist and a compelling story (see The Watsons Go to Birmingham or Bud, not Buddy for more of his historical fiction). He portrays the injustices and cruelties of the period in sensitive and age-appropriate ways. For example, he uses Elijah’s narration to show such scenarios as how escaped slaves who are used to fleeing and hiding must be cautiously approached and how one escaped slave was caught and tortured to death in his attempt to join his family in Buxton. Curtis also realistically portrays the grief experienced by the family and community upon hearing the news of the death.

At the same time, Curtis highlights the strength of spirit of both the enslaved and the free and escaped slaves. Elijah of Buxton does include a significant portion of dialect which might cause struggling readers to stumble over some of the content, but overall, Elijah’s story is an important story and an award-worthy addition to historical fiction.

Takeaway quote (and sampling of the dialect):

Mr. Leroy tells Elijah, “Fish eating’s like anything else in life, Elijah. If you go at it ’specting something bad to happen, all you gunn do is draw that bad thing to you. You caint be timid ’bout nothing you do, you got to go at it like you ’specting good things to come out of it. If I’s to worry ’bout bones choking me, it’d happen every time I et fish. Ain’t nothing further from my mind.”
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