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The Price of a Child    by Lorene Cary order for
Price of a Child
by Lorene Cary
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 1996
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The Price of a Child is profoundly sad but, contradictorily, it is also an uplifting novel. It is written as though it were the autobiography of a slave who escapes to freedom, taking two of her children with her. Virginia Pryor (her slave name) became Mercer Gray and spoke of abolition to hushed audiences in many small towns in the North in the 1840s. Her humor plays a big part in her survival in a country that feared the free Black. Her determination to survive to raise her children and give them a sense of themselves is more than admirable. It's downright brave and selfless.

The reader can feel Mercer's pain when she thinks of her small boy Bennie, the child she had to leave behind. In trying to justify to herself what she considers her desertion of her son, she becomes even more vocal in the fight against slavery. Many aspects of slavery and the so-called 'good treatment' (on which some of the slaveholders prided themselves) became a source of shame in me as I read The Price of a Child. When slaves were given food and clothing and a roof over their heads, owners cried to the world that they were kind and generous masters! How can anyone be called kind when they held another's spirit in their hands? When the women were used as breeding machines? When families could be separated and sold on a whim? Denied education? Killed as an example when a slave learned to read?

But the most heinous aspect was the breakdown of the human mind that occurred all over the South. When offered manumission, many slaves refused. They knew they were ill equipped to live in a world that disapproved of them as a race. What awaited the newly freed slave were sometimes worse conditions than they endured in the South. Slave catchers roamed the cities and towns looking for likely Blacks to be captured and taken South to be sold. It mattered not that these Blacks were free. They were worth money. Their living conditions in the North defy description, although Cary is able to bring these hovels alive and to show us their rats and fleas and rancid filth.

This is a novel that everyone should read. Be warned, though. It is not a book to be put down and forgotten when finished. The Price of a Child stays with you. At least it has with me.

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