Review of “Hell & High Water” by Tanya Landman

This historical fiction novel for young adults set in 1752 is surprisingly gripping; I got caught up immediately in the mysteries surrounding 15-year-old Caleb Chappell.

Caleb is mixed-race, and frequently misidentified as a slave while he accompanies his white father Joseph around the English countryside putting on Punch and Judy puppet shows. But as the book begins, his father is falsely accused of a crime and taken away, condemned to transportation to the colonies. Before they are separated, his father tells Caleb how to find his aunt, about whose existence he had been unaware.

Caleb finally locates Anne Avery, who faints dead away when she sees him; why? Just one more of the unexplained puzzles you will encounter in this appealing story. Caleb also gets to know Anne’s stepdaughter Letty, who eventually joins forces with Caleb in trying to figure out what is going on.

Racism prevents Caleb from finding work to help out Anne and her little family (she also has a baby named Dorcas) but he is able to assist Anne in mending clothes on contract. (Letty is stronger than Caleb and so the traditional gender roles get reversed with these two.) Meanwhile, Caleb finds a dead body, runs up against baffling barriers to finding out what happened to his father, and learns first-hand about the cruel injustices of not only race but class. The odds are so stacked against them, you will be hanging on your seat to see if they come out this tale with any success, or even survive at all, as Caleb and Letty face an accusation of murder.

Evaluation: There are many twists in this riveting story about the corruption of power and money, and the impotence of those without them. The pacing is excellent, and Caleb and Letty are strong characters, using their wits and courage to fight a system against seemingly insuperable odds.

Rating: 3.75/5

Published in the U.S. by Candlewick, 2017

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3 Responses to Review of “Hell & High Water” by Tanya Landman

  1. I’ve heard of YA’s. And I’ve heard of historical fiction. But I don’t think I’ve heard of the 2 together. Pretty cool.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    Maybe I’d like historical fiction for the YA audience. This sounds good.

  3. Complicated but good reading.

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