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YA Nonfiction Review: Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall & Hugo Martínez

Title: Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

AuthorRebecca Hall and illustrated by Hugo Martínez

Year Published: 2021

Category: YA nonfiction (graphic novel, memoir)
Pages: 208
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map) West Africa, Atlantic Ocean, USA (NY, CA, NE), UK

Summary (from Amazon): Women warriors planned and led slave revolts on slave ships during the Middle Passage. They fought their enslavers throughout the Americas. And then they were erased from history.

Wake tells the story of Dr. Rebecca Hall, a historian, granddaughter of slaves, and a woman haunted by the legacy of slavery. The accepted history of slave revolts has always told her that enslaved women took a back seat. But Rebecca decides to look deeper, and her journey takes her through old court records, slave ship captain’s logs, crumbling correspondence, and even the forensic evidence from the bones of enslaved women from the “negro burying ground” uncovered in Manhattan. She finds women warriors everywhere.

Using in-depth archival research and a measured use of historical imagination, Rebecca constructs the likely pasts of Adono and Alele, women rebels who fought for freedom during the Middle Passage, as well as the stories of women who led slave revolts in Colonial New York. We also follow Rebecca’s own story as the legacy of slavery shapes life, both during her time as a successful attorney and later as a historian seeking the past that haunts her.

Illustrated beautifully in black and white, Wake will take its place alongside classics of the graphic novel genre, like Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The story of both a personal and national legacy, it is a powerful reminder that while the past is gone, we still live in its wake.

Review:  I learned about this book this past week from a colleague who is reading it and wants to incorporate it into her curriculum so I got a copy. Now that I've read it, we're going to go for a walk to talk about how to use the book in her class. I think it could be really powerful to use this with students.

The illustrations in this work are so powerful and the fact that the illustrator says he "focuses on depicting narratives of struggle, identity, and resilience" are obvious in his work. The reader can feel the tension, the violence, and the resistance is his artwork.

I love that this book takes the reader through the author's experience as a researcher as well as revealing the slave revolts about which she learns. Hall points out that women often led revolts but are left out of official records and history books. One thing that is fascinating to me is that women led the revolts on the slave ships because slavers left them unchained and up on deck since they were deemed unthreatening. Silly people. Never underestimate women!

Challenges for which this counts:
  • Diversity: black author and characters
  • Literary Escapes: West Africa
  • Popsugar: genre hybrid (memoir, nonfiction, historical fiction)

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