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The Night I Freed John Brown

Review

The Night I Freed John Brown

Thirteen-year-old Josh feels like he lives his life in the shadows. On one side of his rundown house towers the huge church and on the other side sits the fancy, five-story historical residence. His angry father allows the yard to be overgrown in order to hide their house and family from the thousands of tourists who visit Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, every year to learn about the famous John Brown and his attempts to free the slaves. Josh’s dad doesn’t like tourists --- or much of anything.

Then a new park employee moves into the fancy historical house next door with his three sons. Luke, the youngest, is 13, and he and Josh instantly become friends. Josh feels drawn to the neighbor’s place, with their beautiful house and glitzy belongings, and, most especially, to the family itself. Luke’s father isn’t angry all the time and doesn’t yell or push his sons around, and Luke’s brothers don’t get in trouble with the park rangers for messing with the tourists. They even read Shakespeare, practice for the annual John Brown play, and seem to enjoy spending time together. Even better is that they invite Josh to join them. At the neighbor’s house, Josh feels an acceptance, an appreciation for himself that he doesn’t experience at home. He can’t help but be jealous of their seemingly perfect lives.

Back at home, a storm that has been threatening to burst for years is brewing. The family used to go to church and visit Josh’s grandparents in their caretaker’s home for the Catholic retreat. But now his father wants nothing to do with the church or with the house he grew up in, and no one will tell Josh anything. Then one night, all of the pent-up angry feelings explode, and someone gets hurt. Things aren’t as they seem, and Josh is ready for some answers.

John Michael Cummings has had over 75 short stories published in various magazines, but this is his first novel --- and it’s amazing. Cummings has a special talent for description, painting vividly clear pictures with his animated words (“Step after creaky step we went up, with Jerry in the lead, the darkness over us like a low ceiling we were always about to bump our heads into.”). He brings to life a story where things are not always as they seem, with burning emotions begging to be freed and lonely souls desperate for healing.

THE NIGHT I FREED JOHN BROWN is a historically rich story with colorful characters and a family secret that will draw readers in and keep the pages turning. 

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on May 29, 2008

The Night I Freed John Brown
by John Michael Cummings

  • Publication Date: May 29, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel
  • ISBN-10: 0399250549
  • ISBN-13: 9780399250545