Day of Tears

Julius Lester

Based on a historical event, and told only in the thoughts and words of the main characters, this novel is very personal. The only background information is the information that is critical to each person’s story. But, by looking at slavery through the eyes of several different slaves, of different ages, genders, and experiences, as well several different slave owners and other white people (although of varying backgrounds), this book gives readers a strong sense of what slavery felt like from all angles — and while some of those points of view are expected, others are quite unexpected. The main character in this book is Emma, a teenager who is the nanny to her owner’s two young daughters. When her owner sells of hundreds of slaves to pay his gambling debts, Emma is shocked to be one of those who is sold off. The bulk of this novel is told in the days of the sale, with incredible detail on the experience of living through a slave auction. But the last third of the book, shows Emma’s experience after her sale, and how she strives to achieve happiness and freedom in Canada after she escapes.

“Interludes” throughout the book give characters’ reflections from the future, which add a great deal of context and reflection on events of the story.

Reading Level: 
Heads up - topics in this book that might require further discussion: 
Obscene language (more than occasional)
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