- Emily Rokicki
The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman gives readers a look at America’s past while at the same time encouraging them to take a hard look at its present. The novel centers around a 13-year-old girl named Sophie who lives with her recently divorced mother in New Orleans, Louisiana. The story opens with Sophie being taken to a rural part of Louisiana to spend the summer with her maiden aunt and ailing grandmother at the family’s crumbling plantation house while her mother stays in the city and studies to become an accountant.
Sophie feels like burden to all those around her. Her father, far away in New York City, seems to have moved on without her, her mother and best friend back in New Orleans have lives far too fabulous and exciting to include her, even her grandmother and aunt have little patience for teenage Sophie who is forced to spend the summer under their roof. Seeking solace, Sophie sets out to explore the ruined grounds of the former plantation. She swims each day in the bayou (careful to avoid the alligators), explores the ruins of the slave quarters, and walks around the former “big house” imagining just how grand it must have been in its prime.
One day, Sophie discovers a decrepit hedge maze near the “big house” and decides to venture in. Quite soon, she finds herself hopelessly lost, having been led astray by an unseen voice. The voice, it turns out, belongs to a magical creature. Sophie, an avid reader, is thrilled to discover that the magic she’s always dreamed of is in fact quite real. Later, after a rather awful fight with her mother, Sophie runs to the maze and seeks the creature out, demanding to be sent away on a fantastic magical adventure. With a sly wink, the creature agrees to grant her wish.
But Sophie soon discovers that the adventure the creature has planned for her doesn’t compare to the ones found in her storybooks. The creature has sent Sophie back one hundred years in the past, to the year 1860. Sophie is at first thrilled to realize that she’ll be meeting her ancestors. She’s grown up hearing stories of the good old days, tales of fine southern belles in hoop skirts attending lavish balls, their every whim attended to by the bevy of servants surrounding them. But that thrill quickly turns to horror when her relatives take one look at Sophie, tanned from a summer spent swimming in the bayou, and assume that she is a slave.