Two Sisters A Story of Freedom: Part of Scholastic’s highly acclaimed Voices series, this middle-grade historical adventure, inspired by real events, tells the powerful and emotional story of two half-sisters from Jamaica, their journey to Georgian England subsequent struggle for survival.
Ruth and Anna are inseparable, and despite their differences, their bond is strong and unbreakable. This bond, however, is stretched and tested throughout their experiences and how they are each treated. Told in a dual narrative with chapters alternating in each of the sisters’ voices, we begin with life on the Jamaican plantation owned by Anna’s father, John Ambrose, where they and the girls’ Ashanti mother live. The girls’ distinctive and different voices highlight the difference the colour of their skin has on their experiences of life. Ruth is brave and forthright but has always known that her sister Anna with her whiter skin, is allowed certain things that will never be possible for her. When the girls are sent to London with their father, their mother hopes and believes that it will be a haven for them both. However, life in England is not what they anticipated, and their differences become even more apparent, testing their sisterly bond.
Kereen Getten’s writing is excellent at conveying the atmosphere of fear on the plantation and the claustrophobic, unpleasant nature of life in the house in London where the girls find themselves. The emotions of both Ruth, strong-willed and courageous, and Anna, more timid and eager to please, are made more immediate to the reader through the first-person narrative of them both. The author depicts how ignorance, cruelty and a sense of superiority affected people’s behaviour during this time. Some scenes are particularly upsetting to read, such as Ruth’s degrading treatment at the party held by Edith, Ambrose’s sister, for her wealthy friends. The subject matter’s sensitive nature means that the story is best suited to mature readers of Year 6 and above. Getten carefully and sensitively depicts how attitudes are shaped by the experiences of the different characters, and this aspect would prompt thoughtful discussion when sharing the book as a text within the classroom.
Extensively researched and providing an authentic portrayal of a time not frequently covered in children’s literature, this book would be excellent to use alongside the teaching of history. The inclusion of real historical characters such as Dr Samuel Johnson and Francis Barber and places, for example, the tavern that provides a sense of home and belonging for the Jamaicans living in London, adds to this aspect.
This powerful and deeply affecting novel will provide young readers with a deeper insight into Black British History prior to Windrush and, just as this excellent series intends, give a voice to those who previously had none.
You can read a review of another titles from the Voices series. Empire’s End a Roman Story
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