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Review of THE COLOR OF FIRE by Ann Rinaldi

by Becky Laney

Rinaldi, Ann. 2005. THE COLOR OF FIRE. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 0786809388

Based on an historical event, THE COLOR OF FIRE, although fictionalized, is set during the "great Negro plot" of New York City in 1741. Phoebe is a slave of Assemblyman Philipse, and because her owner is a prominent man, she is given some amount of freedom--she is allowed to walk the streets alone and essentially go about her errands unquestioned. Her good friend, Cuffee, isn't so fortunate. Cuffee, who also works for Philipse, is the son of a man the town burned at the stake for allegedly taking place in an uprising. He is watched carefully and is always one of the prime suspects when something troubling happens. In 1741, there are series of fires set all over town. Rumors are flying around that the slaves are uprising. During this time of unrest, an almost unbelievable offer is made. Any slave or indentured servant who will give testimony or evidence against those setting the fires or uprising will earn his/her freedom. Phoebe dreams of one day being free, but is it really moral to gain freedom by naming names...when you don't really know who is setting the fires? Already some of her friends and acquaintances are coming forward listing dozens of names--mostly slaves. More and more slaves are being arrested, questioned, tried, and executed either by hanging or being burned at the stake. Cuffee is one of the slaves being named as a conspirator. When he is arrested, Phoebe's world is shaken. How can innocent people be jailed just because someone accuses them of this horrible wrongdoing just to earn their own freedom. Phoebe's choices are hard ones. But ultimately, she has to make the decision that's right for her.

THE COLOR OF FIRE is a compelling read. It offers an inside-look of an often-unfamiliar time period in American history. It examines the horrors of slavery, the mob mentality often only associated with the Salem witch trials, and the injustice and cruelty of the legal system. It is often difficult to read about the social injustice and prejudice experienced by African-Americans in the past, but it is necessary and benfecial as well. Rinaldi does a good job in THE COLOR OF FIRE of blending fiction with historical fact.


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