Elijah of Buxton is one of those stories that allows the reader to savour it, dwelling in its profound depiction of humanity while at the same time enjoying the entertaining portrayal of Elijah Freeman, the firstborn free child of Buxton. Author Christopher Paul Curtis pulls the reader in with humorous and heartwarming stories of everyday, smalltown life in the 1850’s, fully unfolding the nuances of human interaction. However, Buxton is unique, since it was established in Southwestern Ontario as a refuge for those escaping the horrific perils of slavery.
The story is not an examination of slavery per se; instead, we learn about slavery’s impact on the lives of former slaves. It is subtle, more in keeping with how people behave after experiencing trauma and tragedy, and Elijah’s frank narrative reveals both the resiliency and the frailty of human nature. When necessary to the story, the reality of slavery is harshly evident, but neither too graphic nor gratuitous either for a young audience. Elijah’s viewpoint suggests a young person protected from the cold hard truths, but also concurrently wise to the nuances of the impact of slavery.
Slavery is juxtaposed by the engaging narrative of Elijah, generous, curious, yet prone to misadventure. Elijah has great expectations to live up to, but he’s an average 11 year old, and we have the delightful position of knowing his candid thoughts that run through his head about everything, including his fears, his mother’s cooking, and being hoodwinked by the town scalawag. The very first tale about the snake in the jar should stir your laughter!
The reader is almost lulled into the false sense that active slavery is far away and long ago. Elijah is forced to face the realities of slavery, and make some tough decisions. He risks his life without fully understanding that, which is a good thing because he may not have chosen to act as he did. A great story.