January 19, 2021


I completely missed Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome from last year, and I'm so glad it found its way to me.

North Carolinian Ruth Ellen says goodbye to her extended family at the crack of dawn and heads to the train station to board the New York Bound Silver Meteor (aka the Overground Railroad) with her mom and dad. They are slipping out of town after years of being forced to pick cotton and work for others. As the family rides North, Ruth Ellen observes the world as it passes by her window, reads to her mother about Frederick Douglass, and reflects on the circumstances that brought her and her family to this point. 

Readers are carried into the book by a giant cotton field that sprawls from the verso side of the title page spread to the recto. We see no people at all during what looks like an early morning moment, but this scene is an instant reminder of when and where this story takes place. The final spread of the story (ie before the author's note) is the perfect mirror to this opening image, as we are zoomed in on the protagonist as she looks off into the bright lights of New York City. She's all set to walk off the recto side of the spread and into her new life, a space free from even the bounds of the book itself.

Overground Railroad published last year from Holiday House.

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