ISBN 059041061x - I think the idea of touting this book as "love stories" does it a dis-service, because I don't think the young adult audience is going to be as interested in something they think is a love story; it is also a tad misleading, in my opinion because I think the stories are much more - and much less - than love stories.
In the first story, Ras is tempted to freedom by a man named Jakes, a hired carpenter that he works with to build a shed. Jakes can't resist trying to excite Ras's interest by talking about things the slave could have, if he was free. Helped to run away by his Uncle Isaac and a white man by the name of Thomas McMahon, Ras heads for Calais, the town that Jakes had told him about, only to be caught - because Jakes turned him in! Returned home, Ras tells the other slaves how terrible it was in the North, to avert the whipping he'd otherwise get. Then he and Sally, the woman he loves, help others to flee, until the night they are almost caught and are forced to take their master's life to save their own.
The story of Uncle Issac's children and the terrible choice his wife made to insure no child of hers would ever be a slave took this story out of the realm of mushy love story and into that of heartbreaking, haunting true story - and it sets the tone for the two to come.
In the second story, young Maria falls for Forrest Yates, a free black man. When her mistress dies, her master sells her - to Forrest! Not free to marry, they live together as a couple until Forrest is killed in an accident and Maria is faced with a horrifying choice: lose her dignity or her freedom.
This story rings the least true of the three. Maria's master stops his wife from beating her, treats all the slaves well, sees to it that she is sold to a man who loves her and, even though it's somewhat offensive, his subtle hint that she could take on the role of his mistress is told tactfully. All of this adds up to a man who is not particularly in favor of slavery and a relatively kind owner (which seems like an impossible thing, but you have to remember the times they lived in). His sudden, harsh and heartless about-face at the end of the story makes no sense whatsoever and has the feel of fabrication more than any other part of the book.
The last story is that of William and Ellen Craft, who run away to Philadelphia, then Boston and eventually England, becoming celebrities along the way. Posing as an injured young man and his slave, the pair have several near misses before they find freedom. That freedom nearly comes to an end as two well-known slave hunters come to Boston to find them. When the President vows to send the military to enforce the newly passed Fugitive Slave Bill, the Crafts are helped to hide and, eventually, to run by Reverend Theodore Parker, Lewis Hayden and many others.
Saving the best for last, Lester finally tells a story that will capture your imagination and have you wondering what next, worrying for the Crafts and applauding the people of Boston. This is a story worthy of much more than a short telling in a book for teens, and it's been told several times by other authors, including William Craft himself, but Lester's telling is a superb introduction for young readers.
More than anything, the stories are of strength and courage, and of the horrors and pains of life as a piece of property. That anyone at all emerges from that life with a scrap of dignity is as astounding now as it was then. Hopefully, reading this will lead to a more in-depth interest in the stories. Love stories? Maybe a little, but don't let that stop you!