The war of 1812 is over, but for the inmates at Dartmoor Prison, peace--like home--is still a long way away.On New Year's Eve 1814, the American sailors of the Eagle finally arrive at Dartmoor prison, bedraggled, exhausted, but burning with hope. They've only had one thing to sustain them during the har- rowing voyage--a snatched whisper overheard along the way. The war is finally over.Joe Hill thought he'd left the war outside these walls but it's quickly clear that there's a different type of fight to be had within. The seven prison blocks surrounding him have been segregated; six white and one black.Inspired by true events, this novel recounts the remarkable story of the first ever all-black Shakespeare production, staged by segregated American prisoners of war. It is a story of hope and freedom, of loss and suffering. It is a story about how sometimes, in our darkest hour, it can be the most unlikely of things that see us through.
"England's Dartmoor prison was the dreary, gray home of more than 7,000 American prisoners during the War of 1812. When 16-year-old Joe Hill and his fellow, recently captured shipmates arrive at the prison near the end of 1814, they bring news of the war's imminent end. As the increasingly restless prisoners await the treaty's ratification, tensions rise amidst squalid conditions and food shortages. Furthermore, the prison's seven blocks are segregated, with Block 4 reserved for the black prisoners and led by the charismatic and physically intimidating King Dick. Joe soon befriends Habs, a black resident of Block 4, and learns of King Dick's plans to stage a production of Romeo and Juliet. Joe, who is white, is cast as Juliet, opposite Hab's Romeo, much to the consternation of the white prisoners as well as the prison officials. Mayo's clever incorporation of Shakespearean allusions and rich historical detail permeates this story inspired by actual events. Mayo reimagines the plight of star-crossed lovers as Joe and Hab's friendship evolves into greater affection and a courageous act of being true to one's self.--Bill Kelly Copyright 2019 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"In Mayo's first novel for adults (after the children's book Itch), a grueling work of historical fiction, the War of 1812 is over, but, because the treaty has yet to be ratified by Congress, captured American sailors continue to rot at Dartmoor Prison in England. Into this inhospitable environment comes Joe Hill, a young American sailor who is befriended in prison by Habs Snow, an educated black sailor. The prison is segregated; Joe is assigned to Block Seven while Habs resides in Block Four. Ruling Block Four is the fearsome King Dick, who turns out to have a soft spot for the theater. His idea is to entertain his fellow prisoners by staging a production of Romeo and Juliet starring Habs as Romeo and Joe as Juliet. The production itself is beset by numerous disruptions: an outbreak of smallpox, riots, violence between rival prison gangs, escape attempts, insurrection, and that fateful stage kiss between the two leads. Like Thomas Keneally's The Playmaker, this novel, based on historical record, stirringly dramatizes how theater, stories, and art can be used as a vehicle of uplift in the midst of the most trying, dehumanizing circumstances. Mayo has created a searing portrait of humanity at its most brutal and tender. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."