Michele Landsberg
May 01, 1992 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Pretty Pearl is a ”god chile” who flies to America from Africa’s Mount Kenya to help the freed slaves in the dangerous days of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Bursting with outsize ambitions, Pretty Pearl recklessly tests her magical powers, and ends by losing them in the process of becoming human.

Virginia Hamilton is one of the country’s most versatile and spellbinding authors for young people. In this extraordinarily rich, rollicking, and fantastical novel-length tale, first published in 1983, she succeeds in creating an invigorating myth about the dawn of freedom for African-Americans.

Pretty Pearl, accompanied by several spirits given to her by her big brother, John de Conquer, finds a community of freed slaves living secretly in the vast piney woods of Georgia. They survive by growing ginseng, traded to the outside world by Cherokee allies. When the community is threatened by an encroaching railroad, Pretty Pearl and her fellow gods (including legendary hero John Henry) help the people to flee north to greater safety and freedom. Pretty Pearl, who begins as a god child with all too human frailties, ends as a young woman with magnificent human strengths.

Folktales, trickster stories, slave songs, and eerie spells are skillfully woven into the narrative, making The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl a haunting evocation of a unique culture. A+

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