This is a brilliant coming-of-age story which follows thirteen-year-old Robert as he grows up in the pre-Civil war era of the Southern United States. Robert is such an innocent boy who loves his mother, father, and his best friend William Henry. Robert's mother, Caroline, views slavery as normal and Robert takes this same view as his best friend, William Henry, is a free slave, so Robert's compassion for the slaves is palpable. When he witnesses the atrocity of a slave having his foot axed off, Robert can barely stand-by and watch these things happen and not do anything to help.
His father, Charles, disappears at night and Robert has no idea why or where he is going until he learns that William Henry understands very well what these late night jaunts are all about. But other people consider William Henry a nothing because he is a free black slave. Robert couldn't figure out: "...why a man who worked from dawn til dark as hard as his Pa did would want to go traipsing off in the middle of the night. He never took a lantern off the hook..."
As Robert matures and continues to witness the terrible violence the slaves must endure, he realizes he himself must finally decide how he truly feels about slavery and whether he wants to go against the grain of most of his family members on this issue.
Once Robert learns his father is involved with the Underground Railroad and his mother's opposition to slavery, he realizes he must take a firm stand one way or another and he very soon is presented with the opportunity to find out. But Robert is conflicted between family loyalty and doing what he believes is right.
Ms. Gohlke's writing ability is nothing short of genius! It is so descriptive that I felt like I was morphed into the pages of the book and was a silent and invisible member of the family watching and listening to what was going on. This is one of the best books I've read in a while and would highly recommend this to everyone. The sequel to this is titled: "I Have Seen Him In The Watchfires" which continues Robert's story and I'm anticipating it's going to be as good as this first one is.