William Henry is a Fine Name

Written by Cathy Gohlke
Review by Ann Chamberlin

This young adult novel follows the coming-of-age story of Robert in the summer of 1859. His best friend, William Henry, a freed black boy, and both of their fathers are involved in helping escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad, something they have tried to keep Robert from knowing. Robert slowly comes to understand not only the dangers they face, but the opinions of his mother and her family who are slave holders. When William Henry sacrifices his own life to keep the Railroad safe, Robert has to decide if he is brave enough to help one of his own grandfather’s slaves to freedom.

The inspirational elements may be a bit much for some secular classrooms, and I have to say I didn’t quite buy why a white boy had to go along on the trip. A black point-of-view would certainly be more intensely life-and-death, but also, perhaps more commonly executed. The moral dilemma slavery presented to white people of conscience could use this exposure.