Author: Walter Mosley
Genres: Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now
Summary: “The story you are about to read concerns certain events that occurred in the early years of my life. It all happened over a hundred and seventy years ago.
For many of you, it might sound like a tall tale because I am no older today than I was back in the year 1832. But this is no whopper I’m telling.
This is a story about my boyhood as a slave and my fated encounter with the amazing Tall John from beyond Africa, who could read dreams, fly between galaxies, and make friends with any animal no matter how wild.”
Walter Mosley is one of the best known writers in America. In his first book for young adults, Mosley deftly weaves historical and speculative fiction into a powerful narrative about the nature of freedom. 47 is a young slave boy living under the watchful eye of a brutal slave master. His life seems doomed until he meets a mysterious run-away slave, Tall John. Then 47 finds himself swept up in a struggle for his own liberation.
Review: I had no idea Walter Mosley had written a YA book until I happened to run across it while looking for a birthday gift for a friend. As a huge fan of Walter Mosley, more his sci-fi novels than his mysteries, I was really excited to find this book. I also wondered how I missed this, then noticed that the book is a reprint of the 2005 release of this novel. I’m so thankful that this book is back in print so a new generation of young folk can witness Mosley’s genius.
Like much of Mosley’s science fiction, 47 is a book that takes the reader on a journey into the surreal, well the speculative fiction part of the story is surreal. Learning all about 47’s life in slavery before he meets Tall John is the opposite of surreal, as it’s heart wrenching in the brutality of what slavery really was. There is no sugar coating of the good plantation owner in this novel, no, Mosley’s depiction is harsh, disturbing, and very very real. The surreal comes as Tall John explains his home world and his purpose to 47, that forces the reader to fully slow down their reading and think about the science involved. At first, Tall John reveals himself and his futuristic tools slowly to 47 and how the young man can help Tall John achieve his goal. Tall John also explains to 47 how he will be a savior for his people, and like most heroes, 47 doesn’t believe him at first, but through their experiences eventually accepts his role and takes on the mantle of hero. At that point, the novel becomes this amazing, beautiful mix of a rebellious liberation story and the fantastical. Tall John has also really understood the horrors of slavery and the two together become brothers as they fight to free the slaves of 47’s plantation while at the same time trying to save the universe.
47 is an interesting novel and one that I think teens who are hard core science fiction fans would enjoy. I feel this novel would also open them up to much more of Walter Mosley’s work, specifically his speculative fiction. 47 is such a different novel from most YA science fiction and I enjoyed it for it’s uniqueness. I’m also glad that Walter Mosley dipped his feet into the YA pool and I hope he writes more YA novels.