Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis tells the story of Elijah Freeman, the first freeborn child born in the colony of Buxton, Canada, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. The year is 1860 and when a conman steals the money of a family friend that was intended to buy the man’s family from slavery in the South, Elijah embarks on a dangerous journey to America in pursuit of the thief and he discovers the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents fled.
As readers have come to expect from Curtis, he delivers superior historical research (the author’s notes at the end of the book speak eloquently about the real Buxton settlement), heart-warming characters, lyrical prose, and a story rich in observations, perspective, and truth. Curtis confronts a wide array of issues in this novel and in many ways he is speaking both to Elijah and to the children of today. In one powerful section, Elijah causally uses the n-word to refer to himself and the other children of Buxton. The response from a former slave is swift and powerful, leaving no question about the cultural power of language both in 1860 and today. The lessons and observations Curtis makes never feel didactic or heavy-handed, and Elijah’s 11-year-old point of view is simultaneously innocent and perceptive.
Elijah of Buxton is heart-wrenching, powerful, and full of hope. Its truths ring out loud and clear, just like Buxton’s Liberty Bell.
- Posted by Cori Ashley