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The Light Across the River Review by Kathy Gelzer

Stephanie Reed
Kregel Publications
PO Box 2607
Grand Rapids, MI 49501

The Light Across the River is a historical fiction sequel to Across the Wide River, but also a stand-alone book, about real places, events, and characters in the mid 1800's. The book uses the Underground Railroad as a backdrop for the story of 11-year-old Johnny Rankin, one of 13 children, and his drive to overcome personal shortcomings and prove his maturity to his father. He dreams of earning his father's trust enough to become a conductor on the Underground Railroad and help in his family's important work of leading slaves to freedom. But have his inadequacies endangered those he loves most?

As the story unfolds, the chapters alternate between the perspectives of Johnny from ages 11 to 15, and Eliza, the slave matriarch whose family he helps to free.

This book rises far above others in its genre. In the historical note, author Stephanie Reed shares her knowledge of the Rankin family gained through the study of journals and other first-hand accounts. From her discussion of the research she has done, one gathers the Rankin family legacy has become quite a passion for Stephanie Reed.

Faith in Jesus is a common element among the main characters, both slave and free. "Coincidences" and grace that could only be orchestrated by God fill the pages of The Light Across the River. Johnny's father is not only an active abolitionist but also the town preacher.

There are slave hunters in the book and consequently some name-calling and violence, though no foul language and no excessive detail. Inference to a slave woman being impregnated by her master/owner is also included. Some of the slave hunters drink to excess. It all befits the time and circumstances in which the story takes place.

What would I like to see added? A map of the area showing the key landmarks in relationship to the Ohio River and a Rankin family tree would be helpful additions.

This is a suspenseful page-turner with believable main characters that have palpable struggles. The adventure, history, and even some humor with a bit of old fashioned romance thrown in for good measure make for an enjoyable read for middle schoolers on up. Because of the superb writing comprised of well-chosen words and precise descriptions in keeping with the time period, this book a pleasure to read.

I have a feeling there are more stories about the Rankin family simmering in Stephanie Reed's mind, and I can't wait to read them!

Product Review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2008