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My Name is Not Friday


My Name is Not Friday

Even though it is just the start of 2016, I believe that we will find the superb MY NAME IS NOT FRIDAY on many 2016 best books lists. This historical fiction novel features 13-year-old Samuel, an African-American boy who has spent half his life in an orphanage run by Father Mosely (his mother died giving birth to his baby brother, Joshua). Considering that Samuel is alive during the height of slavery, his life in the orphanage isn’t a terrible fate --- he and the other boys are fed twice a day and have even been taught to read.

Samuel and Joshua are polar opposites. Joshua is described as, “…a thief who won’t even learn to spell his own name” (p. 11) while Samuel is described as, “…a saint, the very brightest and the best I’ve had the pleasure to teach” (p. 11). When Joshua commits his most egregious offense yet, Samuel steps in and takes the blame in order to protect his brother from further punishment. However, Samuel’s selfless act has unimagined consequences that will change the entire course of his life, because as punishment for “his” actions, Samuel is sold to a slave trader.

Gloucester, the slave trader, takes Samuel down south to a slave auction, but before he is given over to the auctioneer, he is renamed Friday and presented with forged papers. Friday is paraded before the audience and the bidding begins; his fate is quickly decided. “This boy has bought me. This white boy who don’t even look as old as I am. He owns me body and soul, and my worth has been set at six hundred dollars” (p. 49).

"Even though it is just the start of 2016, I believe that we will find the superb MY NAME IS NOT FRIDAY on many 2016 best books lists."

Gerald, the boy who bought Friday, is the heir to the cotton plantation in Mississippi where Friday is destined to spend the rest of his days, splitting his time between working in the house and working in the fields. But more than another slave, Gerald was looking for a friend when he bought Friday, so Friday must navigate their complicated relationship in addition to adjusting to his new life.

As Friday wasn’t raised in or around slavery, many of the “rules” of the institution are new and shocking to him. Viewing slavery through Friday’s eyes allows the reader to reconsider this institution in a naïve and innocent way that only serves to highlight its horrors. In this way, it reminds me of THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne, which provided an innocent perspective on WWII and the Holocaust.

As a literacy professional, one of my favorite parts of MY NAME IS NOT FRIDAY is its focus on the power of literacy. As it is commonly known, it was illegal for slaves to learn to read and write; this was just one of the many ways slaves were oppressed and one of the means of continuing the institution of slavery for so long. However, as Friday was raised in an orphanage for free “colored” children, he was taught to read and write. When Friday realizes that no other slave around him can read, he launches on a new path that provides him with a mission and purpose. The results are both inspiring and heartbreaking.

If I was forced to name one flaw in MY NAME IS NOT FRIDAY, I think it would be the fact that the book ends on a positive note with everything tying together nicely. I have struggled quite a bit with my feelings about this ending as I came to love Samuel/Friday and I wanted everything to turn out for him, but many of the final events seemed too convenient and implausible based upon the rest of the story and the realities of the time period.

I highly recommend MY NAME IS NOT FRIDAY and think that it adds a new perspective on an institution that has been extensively examined and written about. The author, Jon Walter, is an outsider --- he is British and white --- and I was amazed that he was able to capture this time period in American history with so much depth and texture. I will definitely be on the lookout for future books by Walter as I think that he is an author to watch. 

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on January 21, 2016

My Name is Not Friday
by Jon Walter