The Freedom Maze

Delia Sherman  - published November 2011

The Freedom MazeNovember 15, 2011 · 9781931520300 / 9781931520409 · $16.95 · 272 pp · trade cloth (out of print)/ebook/audio
January 7, 2014 · Paperback and new ebook edition published by Candlewick Press

Norton Award winner
Prometheus Award winner
Mythopoeic Award winner

ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults
Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011
Tiptree Award Honor List

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 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 playful inhabitant.

When Sophie, bored and lonely, makes an impulsive wish inspired by her reading, hoping for a fantasy adventure of her own, she slips one hundred years into the past, to the year 1860. On her arrival she makes her way, bedraggled and tanned, to what will one day be her grandmother’s house, where she is at once mistaken for a slave.

“Forced to spend her summer at her grandmother’s Southern house in the 1960’s, Sophie unwittingly finds herself transported to the Civil War era as a slave of her ancestors.”
ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults

“Ensnares the reader with mysteries and conundrums of many varieties: social, historical, and magical. Adroit, sympathetic, both clever and smart, The Freedom Maze will entrap young readers and deliver them, at the story’s end, that little bit older and wiser.”
—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz

The Freedom Maze is, frankly, a stunning book on every level.”

“Ambitious . . . vividly evokes two historical settings, turning a glaring light on the uncomfortable attitudes and practices of earlier eras.”
—Jonathan Hunt, The Horn Book

“Delia Sherman riffs on Edward Eager’s classic The Time Garden in her deeply affecting time travel and coming-of-age novel The Freedom Maze. . . . Realistic, compelling, and not the slightest bit condescending, The Freedom Maze is all about changing your world. Well done, Ms. Sherman.”
—Colleen Mondor, Bookslut

“There are books you just know will stay with you forever. This is one of them. Rating: 10: Perfect.”
Book Smugglers

“It’s 1960, but on the decayed Fairchild sugar plantation in rural Louisiana, vestiges of a grimmer past remain—the old cottage, overgrown garden maze, relations between white and black races.
“Stuck for the summer in the family ancestral home under the thumb of her cranky, imperious grandmother, Sophie, 13, makes a reckless wish that lands her in 1860, enslaved—by her own ancestors. Sophie’s fair skin and marked resemblance to the Fairchilds earn her “easy” employment in the big house and the resentment of her peers, whose loyalty she’ll need to survive. Plantation life for whites and blacks unfolds in compelling, often excruciating detail. A departure from Sherman’s light fantasy Changeling (2006), this is a powerfully unsettling, intertextual take on historical time-travel fantasy, especially Edward Eager’s Time Garden (1958), in which white children help a grateful enslaved family to freedom. Sophie’s problems aren’t that easily resolved: While acknowledging their shared kinship, her white ancestors refuse to see her as equally human. The framing of Sophie’s adventures within 1960 social realities prompts readers to consider what has changed since 1860, what has not—for Sophie and for readers half a century later—and at what cost.
“Multilayered, compassionate and thought-provoking, a timely read on the sesquicentennial of America’s Civil War.”
Kirkus Reviews (*starred review*)

“Halfway through the narrative, I thought a tale like this could be improved if we can see how the transformation has changed the character—more than a glimpse given the amount of time spent developing the opening. This was exactly what Sherman did…. This is a novel worth checking out: a fine exemplar of a well-written children’s book, or of the fantastic for fans of history and especially of the Civil War, reminiscent in ways of Octavia Butler’s Kindred.”
—Trent Walters, SF Site

“While heartache thrums throughout the book–children have been sold away from their parents, bodies are worked like machines and beaten liberally, living conditions are despicable–there is the clear bell of hope, that sound in children’s literature that is too tough to destroy.”
The Pirate Tree

“Sherman has created a finely honed work of art, a novel that deals eloquently with complex and intersecting issues of race, womanhood, class and age. In transporting the reader so fully into another time, The Freedom Maze becomes timeless. This is true magic.”
—Alaya Dawn Johnson, author of Moonshine

“A seamless blending of wondrous American myth with harsh American reality, as befits young Sophie’s coming-of-age. I think younger readers and adults alike will be completely riveted by her magical journey into her own family’s double-edged past.”
—N. K. Jemisin, author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

“This is an absolutely fascinating story. The Freedom Maze draws you into a world of danger and mystery, of daring and change, at the dawning of the Civil War. Sophie’s adventures in the history of her family’s Louisiana plantation feel real, and lead her to a real understanding of racial truths she would never have caught a glimpse of without magic. Beautifully imagined and told with satisfyingly matter-of-fact detail: pot liquor and spoon bread, whips and Spanish Moss, corset covers and vévés and bitter, healing herbs.  The Freedom Maze is deep, meaningful fun.”
—Nisi Shawl, author of Filter House

“Sherman’s antebellum story exposes a wide sweep through a narrow aperture, where the arbitrary nature of race and ownership, kindred and love, are illuminated in the harsh seeking glare of an adolescent’s coming of age.”
Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

“A bold and sensitively-written novel about a supposed-white child, Sophie Fairchild returned magically to a time of her ancestors who were slavemaster and slaves in the old South. This book puts the lie to those today making loose political statements about happy, comfortable slave families of that brutal era while telling a strong story that will not let the young reader stop turning pages to see how things will work out for Sophie and her fellow slaves, especially the cook Africa, and house slaves Antigua and Canada. I was mesmerized.”
—Jane Yolen, author of The Devil’s Arithmetic

“A riveting, fearless, and masterful novel. I loved Sophie completely.”
—Nancy Werlin, author of Extraordinary

“A subtle and haunting book that examines what it means to be who we are.”
—Holly Black, co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Freedom Maze is destined to become a classic of time-travel fantasy alongside Edward Eager’s Time Garden and Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Sherwood Ring. Yes, it is thatgood. But it’s also something more: a novel that slides skillfully past all the usual stereotypes about plantation life in the ante-bellum South, encouraging young readers to look at race, gender, and American history in a deeper, more nuanced way. It is, quite simply, one of the very best books I’ve read in years. Now I want everyone to read it.”
—Terri Windling

“Vividly realized and saturated with feeling.”
—Elizabeth Knox, author of DreamHunter

“An entertaining, cracking adventure yarn, The Freedom Maze elegantly unravels many myths of the antebellum South, highlighting the resistance of the enslaved, and showing how even the kind hearted are corrupted by their exploitation of their fellow human beings.”
—Justine Larbalestier, author of Liar

“A story that says what no story has quite said before, and says it perfectly. Stuck on her family’s Louisiana plantation in 1960, adolescent Sophie Fairchild wishes for adventure—and travels magically from the beginning of Civil Rights to the beginning of the Civil War. Enslaved by her own ancestors, Sophie finds kinship among the other people secretly traveling tangled paths toward freedom and home. No matter what age you are, this is a book for the permanent shelf.”
—Sarah Smith, author of the Agatha-winning The Other Side of Dark

“A dramatic yet sensitively-written coming-of-age story that succeeds both as classic fantasy and issue-oriented children’s literature. When Sophie Martineau travels back in time from 1960 to 1860, she discovers the painful complexity of her own heritage as a descendant of both Louisiana planters and the slave women who were forced to bear their children. Sherman offers a non-sugarcoated portrayal of life for black women under slavery, and she never falls into the trap of reducing them to simple stereotypes. Instead, Sophie’s adventure becomes a window into the daily lives of the women who manage the Martineau family’s plantation, work their fields, cook their food, and even raise their children–all while their own reality as thinking, feeling human beings remains strangely invisible to their white owners. Young readers will stay up late to find out if there’s a happy ending for Sophie and Antigua. And by the time they turn the last page, they will have gained a deeper appreciation of the real human cost of slavery–and of the intelligence and resourcefulness with which generations of women struggled to protect their families under a system that denied their most basic rights as human beings.”
—Chris Moriarty

“Vivid and compelling, The Freedom Maze will transport you completely to another time.”
—Sarah Beth Durst

Small Beer Press: In your nearly twenty years of working on this book, what was the most surprising thing you found?

Delia Sherman: “The most surprising thing, really, was finding an advertisement for a runaway slave in the library of Loyola University in New Orleans that read more or less as follows: “Wanted, [name], a woman of [however many] years. Blond and blue-eyed, could pass as white.” That was the most dramatic example, but once I’d seen it, I began to notice others, for “fair-skinned” or “red-haired” slaves escaping with darker companions as slave and master or mistress. It really made me think about how race was constructed in the ante-bellum South.”

Delia Sherman was born in Japan and raised in New York City, but spent vacations between her mother’s relatives in Texas and Louisiana and her father’s relatives in South Carolina. With a PhD in Renaissance Studies, she proceeded to teach until she realized she’d rather edit and write instead. But retaining her love of history, she has set novels and short stories for children and adults in many times and places. Her work has appeared most recently in the YA anthologies The Beastly Bride, Steampunk!, and Teeth.  Her “New York Between” novels for younger readers are Changeling and The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen. Delia still enjoys teaching writing workshops, most recently at the Hollins University Masters Degree Program in Children’s Literature. After many years in Boston, she once again lives in New York City, but travels at the drop of a hat.