Audio Review: The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

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April 5, 2013 by Heidi

The Freedom Maze by Delia ShermanTitle: The Freedom Maze [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Delia Sherman [Website|Twitter]
Narrator: Robin Miles
Standing:  Stand alone novel.
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical, Fantasy
Published: September 25th, 2012 by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook; 8 hrs, 34 min.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Set against the burgeoning Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and then just before the outbreak of the Civil War, The Freedom Maze explores both political and personal liberation, and how the two intertwine.

In 1960, thirteen-year-old Sophie isn’t happy about spending the summer at her grandmother’s old house in the Bayou. But the house has a maze Sophie can’t resist exploring once she finds it has a secretive and mischievious inhabitant.
When Sophie, bored and lonely, makes an impulsive wish, she slips back one hundred years into the past, to the year 1860. She hopes for a fantasy book adventure with herself as the heroine. Instead, she gets a real adventure in the race-haunted world of her family’s Louisiana sugar plantation in 1860, where she is mistaken for a slave.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is still two years in the future. The Thirteen Amendment—abolishing and prohibiting slavery—will not be not passed until April 1864.

Muddy and bedraggled, Sophie obviously isn’t a young lady of good breeding. She must therefore be a slave. And she is.

The Freedom Maze is one of those beautifully crafted, almost underhanded coming of age stories where it’s impossible to observe the changes in one you see every day, until suddenly you’re faced with the contrast of who they once were.  Sophie is a girl reaching most tentatively that border between being a child and being a young woman.  Being pushed most forcibly toward the latter by her quite proper mother, Sophie feels stifled in her own skin (and especially the stockings, not to mention the bra).  Wonderfully, it is Sophie’s refusal to release her grasp on the childhood notions of adventure and magic that eventually lead her into who she will become.

Delia Sherman completely sucked me in with so many of those things I can’t resist–good historical fiction and good time travel among them.  A relatively uncomplicated time travel tale, Sophie is thrown from her summer life at the family estate in Louisiana 1960 into life at the family estate (and plantation) in 1860.  Both time periods were rife with struggles for Civil Rights; one for freedom, the other for equality.  Because Sherman chose to focus the story on Sophie, a privileged white southerner of 1960 who is forced to become a light-skinned slave in 1860, we are afforded this window of opportunity to understand both worlds from an angle I, for one, have never seen.  What I loved most about Sophie’s development was that her personal perspective on African Americans didn’t change so much as her understanding of them as human beings of equal (or greater) worth.  She is a young person being brought up to have the perspective of her white southern family, never before realizing that as kind as they may seem, treating one with kindness is not the same as treating them as an equal.  What changes are Sophie’s perspectives on freedom, respect, dignity, and family, and our understanding as readers of how complex this world and system has been throughout slavery, the Civil Rights movement, and today.

Sophie longs for an adventure, and the creature who sends her back in time certainly gives her one, though not of the type any young person would request.  Sophie is forced to redefine her world through the eyes of a slave, and in doing so learns what she is willing to stand up against, and what battles are not worth fighting.  She comes into her own as a person and begins to define herself not by her name or her appearance, but by what she can do for those around her.  The most striking and unique element of The Freedom Maze as a time travel story was Sophie’s gradual sinking into the past–her ability to adapt and acclimate directly related to her ability to remember the future and where she came from.

The Freedom Maze is one of those books that is definitely enhanced by its audio production.  The audio includes a wonderful interview with Delia Sherman in which she talks about the historical aspects of her book and the writing process, The Freedom Maze taking her a staggering 18 years and 27 rewrites to complete.  She also talked of her role in finding the perfect narrator to portray Sophie’s tale, a process we as readers hear about very rarely (in fact, I’m not sure how much control authors usually have here).  Sherman was immediately sold on Robin Miles for her ability to instinctively pronounce words like “New Orleans” as one from Louisiana would, and also Miles’ ability to capture two disparate historical time periods in her voice: 1960 and 1860.  And she does; Robin Miles was without a doubt the perfect narrator for The Freedom Maze, easily transporting the reader to these time periods with her voice, accents, and inflection.  My only confusion stemmed from the fact that Sherman refers to the “creature” in her interview as a male, but in the audio it is undoubtedly female.  The fact is, the creature works well as a genderless character, but I’m now curious what pronouns were used in the physical book.

The Freedom Maze is a phenomenal pick for all readers who enjoy the historical with a twist, particularly if you are a reader who enjoys introspection and quietly fearful plot lines.  It will cause readers to really think about slavery in the history of this (or any) country, and how difficult arbitrary lines can become to draw over time.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I realized reading Sherman’s bio on Goodreads that “she lives in NYC with her wife and sometimes collaborator, Ellen Kushner”.  Hello awesome, I’d love to read some collaborative work between these two.  In the meantime, I have my eye on The Porcelain Dove, which sounds fairy tale-esque and won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award.

Recommended for:  Fantastic for fans of historical fiction, and while it does have some fantasy elements, they are very light, and this is much more a historical coming of age story.  Great for those who enjoyed Moon Over ManifestSplendors and Gloomsor Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical work.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  I’ve had Edward Eager’s Half Magic on my TBR for years now.  Sophie’s favorite book in The Freedom Maze is The Time Garden, the fourth book in this series, which I’m now dying to read as well.  Does anyone know if order matters in Eager’s Tales of Magic series?

Get a second opinion:
The Readventurer – “This is a fantastic audiobook that I recommend for children and the adults in their lives.  I think this would be an excellent introduction to American slavery for any middle school classroom.”
The Book Smugglers – “There are books you just know will stay with you forever. This is one of them.”
Steph Su Reads – “THE FREEDOM MAZE will be best for patient readers who like their readings challenging, well-researched, and with just a dash of the fantastical.”

Armchair Audies
This review was written as part of the 2013 Armchair Audies.

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12 comments »

  1. I’ve never heard of this one, but as with most of your recommendations, it sounds great. I think I’ll enjoy this since I’m slowly getting back into more MG now, but I’ll probably check out Moon Over Manifest or Navigating Early first. Great review, Heidi, and keep up with those audiobooks! :)

    • Heidi says:

      This one is so so good, Keertana! This one’s also older MG, verging on younger YA level, seriously though, this and/or Moon Over Manifest–you should track them down.

  2. VeganYANerds says:

    I’ve only read one other review for this over @ The Readventurer, and now I’m doubly convinced that this is something I should read, especially via audio book. I just listened to the same and Robin narrates so well, I think I’d really enjoy it.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes! The audio for this one is so wonderful, Mandee, I hope you’re able to get a hold of it. It’s really one of those that flew under the radar but so deserves to be read.

  3. Lauren says:

    “treating one with kindness is not the same as treating them as an equal.” <—SO true! That's a vital distinction and I feel we often need a reminder of that. I'd never heard of this book before, but it sounds like a thought-provoking adventure. Plus I LOVE Moon Over Manifest, so I'm totally sold on any book that is mentioned in its company. Great review, and thanks for introducing me to this!

    • Heidi says:

      It is thought provoking, and just so wonderful, Lauren! I really hope you check it out, I know you’re a big MG reader, and this is one of those under the radar golden finds that really needs more attention/praise.

  4. This does sound like an impressive and well-researched story. My most recent time travel story was a bit of a dud, so I am eager to read a better one. Plus I’ll never say no to a story where a naive young heroine is forced to come to terms with a darker, more mature reality and emerge positively changed. I am kind of curious about looking into the audio version of this book. Maybe middle grade books would be easier for me to listen to and be able to retain more memory/understanding of? Either way, I really do want to read this book at some point soon!

    And a fun fact: Delia Sherman did a short story retelling of “Tam Lin” in 2007. I knew her name sounded vaguely familiar. :)

    • Heidi says:

      It was so well done, I love historical fiction that just comes to life because of the research. This is a winner of a time travel book, though it’s surprisingly not a huge focus of the story. Middle Grade have become my favorite via audio largely for that reason, Amanda! Most of them are around 8 hours, or less, so it’s easy to get through them and still be really into the story.

      Hahaha, I didn’t know she’d done a Tam Lin! Awesome.

  5. Holy crap! 18 years to complete! That’s dedication! Anyway, I’ve added this to my audiobook shelf, because I’m always looking for wonderful audios to listen to, and I’m sure I’ll love this. I love that you’re going through them for me (totally just for me) in the Armchair Audies.

    • Heidi says:

      I know, I was so impressed with how long this story stayed in her mind and how much work she did for it (she DID write other books in the meantime). This audio is wonderful, and I know you dig MG, so I really REALLY recommend it. In fact, I really recommend most the Audies titles. 😛

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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