The Sunny Lifestyle of a Home Journalist

Thursday, November 19, 2015

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Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley



I’ve started listening to audio books lately and I like it a lot. It always sounded neat to be able to listen to something intriguing and relaxing while I’m doing something mindless like laundry or baking. Then I found out about the free first month and free first book deal on audible, and that sold me. 


Well, when I first got the audible app, I started sampling books and found some of the narrators to be awful. They either sounded like robots or had extremely annoying voice tones or accents.


But eventually I found a book I had been wanting to read with a narrator who had a relatively soothing voice that I could actually listen to for more than 10 minutes (Adenrele Ojo). It was Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.


Yesterday I finished it and it left me really sad, not only because of the ending but because such a great book was over (and mostly because I would have to pay to get my next audio book).


It was the perfect book to listen to, rather than read, for the first time. Audible has all kinds of books for sale, and sometimes I like to read self-help-ish-type books, but the idea of listening to a story instead sounds so much more appealing to me. Plus, I like books with a little history mixed in so that I can learn about intriguing topics while hearing a good story.


That’s why this was the perfect book. And I fell in love with the characters. You’ve probably heard that Thomas Jefferson had children with one of his slaves. Well, the author tells you the story behind this slave and her children, in a well-researched but also fictional way.


The whole book spans over a period of 20 years, and shifts through three narrators. But here’s what’s awesome- the narrator is always a kid. By the end of the book, the first narrator is married with children. So the concepts of slavery and freedom are broken down to be really basic but still thought-provoking.


It plays on the irony of Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence and supposed "champion of freedom," owning more than 100 slaves, 4 of them his own children. These children are of course more light-skinned than the other slaves, and they’re allowed to leave Monticello at the age of 21 to live in the world as white.


But one of the children, Maddy, happens to have darker skin than his siblings, so he goes through the book wondering what his future will hold. He was my favorite character for some reason, him and Miss Ellen, Master Jefferson’s grandchild who taught Maddy and some of the other slaves to read.


The most moving part of the book was the last chapter. This takes place after Master Jefferson dies, when 130 of his slaves must be sold at an auction that is attended by half the country. (Did no one there start to think about how Jefferson was clearly not practicing what he preached?) We all know that slave families were separated and unfairly treated back then, but this book really shows how awful that all was.


I really liked how Beverly and Maddy enjoyed big words, too. And I liked the violins. And how it showed both good and bad aspects of Jefferson’s life and personality. It wasn’t super judgmental but it also didn't portray that we should worship the founding fathers, like a lot of early American history books do.



It’s funny and captivating and educational and compelling. Definitely worth reading, even if it’s not the audio version. It’s now on my list of books to read aloud to my kids someday.

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