I, Peter York, am now in my thirteenth year. After my entire family perished from disease, I alone remained, and was taken in by one Everett Shinn. Now, I have nothing to my name. Nothing, save my horse, but Mr. Shinn considers even that to be the property of my new family.
One night, an adventure presented itself to me; several bondsmen had escaped from the village across the river and were thought to be heading in this direction. Mr. Shinn disapproved of my joining the search party, but I felt that I had the right to vie for the twelve pound reward.
But then, I found one of the escapees. She was young – scarcely older than I am myself – and she looked miserable. I began to feel pity for her, but knew that to aid a runaway servant is a crime. What should my course of action be?
As always, Avi writes a complex story. There is no stereotyping or quick and easy conclusion. As the story begins, we see Peter adjusting to his new family life with the Shinns. Mr. Shinn is a firm man – not dictatorial or unjust, but not always relational. Peter rankles under what he perceives to be injustice on Mr. Shinn’s part (e.g., the horse), and when the search commences, believes Mr. Shinn to be a hypocrite because he takes part in the search while believing that indentured servitude is wrong. Peter himself is fine with it.
However, after he meets Elizabeth, the runaway, he is moved by her apparent unhappiness. He decides that she is right in running away, and decides to help her. Here again, he finds reason to label Mr. Shinn as a hypocrite, because, although he believes that indentured servitude is wrong, he does not act on his belief.
Thence ensues a web of deception. Peter hides Elizabeth and her friend and gives them food – without his master’s knowledge. He decides to run away with these two. However, upon starting their journey, they encounter Mr. Shinn. Peter thinks that he has come to stop them, but instead, he has brought Peter’s horse to help them escape. Peter sets his friends off towards freedom, but realizes that “he does not want his”. He returns to Mr. Shinn’s home and they make peace.
It’s a hard nut to crack. I believe in people acting on their conscience. I also believe in respecting authority, which Peter did not. But how to reconcile these two, sometimes baffles me.
Mr. Shinn is a Quaker, and Peter attends a Quaker meeting with the Shinns.
Peter tells a few lies, but admits to them in the end.
Peter calls says that he has acted like an ass, and after losing the boat “curses himself with every swear word that I had ever spoke.” None of these words are included.
Conclusion. There is no one size fits all opinion for this story. Your choice.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret