By: C.E. Edmonson
Publisher: Pleasant Word
Publication Date: July 2009
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor
Review Date: September 2009
If you only have a couple seconds to spare, I’ll jump right to the point: I loved C.E Edmonson’s Golden’s Rule. If you have a bit more time – and I hope you do – please read on about this spectacular chapter book for older children. Golden’s Rule juxtaposes the lives of two teenage girls at powerfully dramatic times in their lives. Maddie Bergamo lives in present-day Montclair, New Jersey. She is a 5’10”, multi-racial, quick-witted teenage girl who, we discover together, has a brain tumor. The other voice of the story is Golden Lea Jackson Pitts, Maddie’s great-great-great-grandmother, who is a slave living on a plantation in Kentucky. As the story gracefully alternates between Maddie’s story and the memoir penned by Golden Lea, readers quickly become absorbed in their compelling narratives. At its very core, Golden’s Rule is a tale about the admirable strength of these two girls as they discover basic truths about life.
When we first meet Maddie, she is a proto-typical teenager contemplating fairly benign issues, like clothes, boys, her friends, rotten teachers and her parents. “But when you’re a kid, you’re a kid. You don’t have any control over the adults who run your life,” reasons Maddie about the impotent status of children in her world. Golden Lea begins her recollections with the searing memory of watching her shackled mother being sold off the plantation when Golden Lea was merely three-years-old but already having begun her lifelong job as a personal slave to a loathsome two-year-old white child. Golden Lea’s resigned acceptance of her life of bondage contracts vividly with our introduction to Maddie as a light-hearted, liberated girl with limitless hopes and expectations of her future. As the story progresses, readers learn the painful common bonds that link them together as well.
In Golden Lea’s matter-of-fact voice, the author informs readers about the harsh realities of slave life. The tone is not sugarcoated, nor is it overly dramatic. Instead Edmonson has made the brilliant choice to present Golden Lea’s story in a straightforward and even-handed tone, which adds a chilling effect as readers are left to make conclusions themselves about the horrors of bigotry. “But Masta was Masta, and he didn’t have to make no sense. He jus had to say what he wanted and that was it,” reasons Golden Lea in a potent intensification of Maddie’s earlier feelings of powerlessness. And later Golden Lea concludes, “Fact, if Masta Harris was even aware that slaves had feelins, he never showed it. Sellin slaves didn’t mean no more to him than sellin cattle and a lot less than sellin a horse.” While Golden Lea struggles with the hideousness of slavery, Maddie struggles to recover from the brain tumor. Both girls are fighting for their lives. Both girls are dealing with gross unfairness and senseless injustices well beyond their control. Edmonson deftly parallels the stark contrast between Golden Lea’s quiet determination and Maddie’s formidable wit while also highlighting their similarly smart, wily and brave characters.
Sensitive readers should be aware of two issues brought up by Golden’s Rule. Firstly, as you may have guessed already, Edmonson tackles some very heavy topics. Although the author handles these deep issues with careful balance and commendable tact, this story deals with some harsh realities, such as a brain tumor, risky surgeries, very sick young children, the potential death of both characters, the death of a parent, and racism. Personally, I am looking forward to reading Golden’s Rule with my eleven-year-old daughter, but we definitely will read it together so we can discuss the hard parts as they come up. The second issue is the dialect in which Golden Lea’s story is written. Whenever an author makes a call to write in dialect, it’s a tricky balance. Edmonson himself refers to this literary tightrope when he has Maddie, who is too sick to read for herself, asks her African-American mother to read aloud from the memoir. “Mom usually loved reading to me. It was something we’d done together since I was a little kid. But what she didn’t particularly care for was Golden Lea’s dialect. It’s one thing for a black woman to read that dialect, another thing to speak the words out loud. But Mom was always a trooper and after a minute of stumbling over the words, she settled into the story.” Like Maddie’s mom, this reader soon put down the red flags raised by the language, and became at peace with the authenticity of Golden Lea’s voice.
Though both these courageous girls face undeniable difficulties, ultimately these characters provide outstanding inspiration. By the end of the book, as Golden Lea achieves freedom and Maddie slowly recovers, their linked epiphanies reflect all that readers have learned from sharing the stories of these admirable girls. In Golden Lea’s voice, “Most of all, rememba this, child: Love God with all your heart, and love other peoples the way you want to be loved. ‘Specially them that is the most lowly.” And as Maddie reaffirms in her own memoir, “I know there’s supposed to be a gulf between gratitude and love. But is there a difference between care and love? I didn’t think so. Not anymore. Care is the outward expression of love, in my opinion. If my parents weren’t able to speak – if they were stricken with silence for a few hours the way I had been – I still would’ve heard them loud and clear. They loved me, and because of that, they took care of me. It was as simple and yet as profound as all that.” Profound indeed.
Quill says: Parents will appreciate the unique perspective of slave life in this historical fiction book. Older children will get caught up in the heartfelt drama. Everyone will be all the better for reading the well-crafted presentation of two powerful characters in Golden’s Rule.
For more information on Golden’s Rule, please visit the book's website at: Golden's Rule.com