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The Color of Fire

Review

The Color of Fire

"Why does any group of people hate another, Phoebe? Because they misjudge the ones they hate. Because they really don't know them."

Author Ann Rinaldi has been writing historical fiction for over three decades and has gained quite a reputation for doing so. Her books have received their fair share of accolades, including the American Library Association Best Book of the Year Award (eight of her books have been awarded this honor), and have been used as part of the curriculum in countless schools and libraries nationwide. Her latest book, titled THE COLOR OF FIRE, is yet another strong addition to the bunch --- a fictional account based on the Great Negro Plot of 1741 in New York City when America was still a colony of Great Britain and at war with Spain.

The story opens just as a fire is beginning to catch in Master Philipse's warehouse, and Phoebe, Master Philipse's black servant and the eyes and ears of the book, is attempting to decipher who started it. As the days go on and more fires are mysteriously started, the townsfolk become increasingly suspicious and suspect that the slaves not only are responsible for the wreckage but that they also are planning a murderous revolt against their masters. A manhunt ensues, and as you might expect, blacks are pitted against whites, fingers are pointed, and blame gets handed down without a lick of fairness or in-depth investigation on the part of the authorities.

In the end, Phoebe's best friend Cuffee, also a servant to Master Philipse, is charged, put to trial, found guilty, and consequently burned at the stake. Fifteen or so other slaves are named (some by their already convicted friends) and executed, as well as two whites who were believed to be in on the scheme. The overall atmosphere in the town, despite the incessant executions, is not one of vindication and justice, but one of nagging fear and chaos, where no one trusts anyone and every man is out for himself.

As with many of her other books, Rinaldi leaves ample room for interpretation. She doesn't actually say whether the accused were proven guilty, or whether they actually committed the deeds --- as in history. What she does dwell on, however, is the moral implications of each character's actions (especially Phoebe's) and the pains they go through when contemplating their next step.

Although some readers may feel that it reads more like a book for history class rather than one to be poured through for pleasure, THE COLOR OF FIRE is an engaging story that is perfect for learning and sparking discussions about making choices and standing up for one's beliefs despite the consequences.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on April 28, 2005

The Color of Fire
by Ann Rinaldi

  • Publication Date: April 27, 2005
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Jump At The Sun
  • ISBN-10: 0786809388
  • ISBN-13: 9780786809387