Number Eight in the monthly Uppity Women Wednesday Series, started in April, 2014.
Rarely do page-turners written for middle-school kids also ignite excitement in adults. (A notable exception is the series of Harry Potter books.) Fewer still explore the secret sorrows of children's lives in the mid-1800s, whether enslaved or free. Running Out of Night, a debut novel from Californian Sharon Lovejoy, a veteran author-illustrator known nationally for her prizewinning nonfiction books on gardening and nature, gives you both. Like Rowling's Potter, her book follows the desperate quest of youngsters who've seen the darker sides of human nature. Instead of Harry, Hermione and Ron, it's preteen girls Lark and Zenobia who flee their grim lives in search of a sunnier, freer world.
Book cover, jacket art c. 2014 Meagan Bennett. by Permission by Delacorte Press
An uppity woman of modern times, Lovejoy comes from a long line of outspoken Quaker ancestors who pioneered Virginia and Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Later generations of the family went west to join Quaker communities in Pasadena, California. Thanks to her history-loving female relatives, notably her grandmother Abigail Harlan Baker Lovejoy and elder cousin Margaret Macdonald, Lovejoy has inherited a passionate love of the past.
Author Sharon Lovejoy by Florence Karlin (leather satchel. Public domain)
She also inherited primary source treasures any writer would kill for. In 1969, her cousin gave her an old leather suitcase, filled with handwritten documents and other memorabilia, some of it over a century old. In 1974, her grandmother did the same, handing over trunks jammed with artifacts and a rich array of history on paper.
Battle of Gettysburg, Currier & Ives image, with young Union Soldier by Public domain via wiki
Sharon recalls her excitement at this windfall. "History came alive for me when I read these amazing letters, filled with life and with the deaths of friends and family who fought in the Civil War." Some of the letters were sent from Civil War battlefields and army encampments. One came from the battle of Gettysburg, where her great-grandfather Edwin Baker and great-uncle Aaron fought. "I sobbed as I read how Aaron, with only a few days left to serve, was shot and carried off the battlefield by his brother Edwin and three friends, who buried him in a nearby field."
While meticulously documenting this amazing motherlode, Sharon made periodic trips to her Virginia roots, spending time on Catoctin Creek, wandering through the communities and Quaker meetinghouses, and exploring Loudoun County. The region was deeply divided over secession and suffered greatly in the Civil War.
Old Stone Meeting House, Lincoln, VA by copyright 2012, J Riley Stewart
Stone Meeting House Historical Marker, Lincoln, VA by copyright 2012, J Riley Stewart
"I attended a Friends meeting in Goose Creek--an amazing experience. I felt I was part of a river of time," recalls Lovejoy. "I also worked with the Quakers in several towns, spending many hours studying historic records and objects--for example, the slave bills of sale and manumission papers. Still other documents, I got to examine at the Smithsonian Institution. There were so many things that touched my heart."
Inspired by the materials she handled and read, as well as by her Quaker upbringing, Lovejoy decided to write a novel in the voice of an abused 12-year-old white girl who joins forces with a runaway slave, a black girl her own age. "When quite young, I'd heard grownups talking about blacks, using the "N" word. It upset me deeply because my grandmother Abigail had taught me to be respectful of the differences between people. Later, in Los Angeles, I encountered racism again. I simply did not understand it, except that I knew I was a heck of a lot luckier, just because of my skin color. In writing this book, I wanted to show a kid's eye view of the differences. I wanted to open children's minds and hearts to the fabric of our history. To learn how hatred can be transmitted like a virus but 'cured' with knowledge and love."