Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Science Fiction (Beacon Press, 2004)
Original hardcover by Doubleday, 1979
Stunning. Breathtaking. Heart-wrenching. Memorable.
Kindred will leave you lying awake at night, wondering how it's possible that you--a 21st century white woman who thought she had been well-educated through the public school systems about what happened in times of American slavery--didn't really know diddly-squat. That's what it did to me, anyway.
I'm generally not a fan of time-travel stories, but this novel should be on everyone's Must-Read list.
Dana, a 20-something black woman living in 1976 with her white husband, Kevin, is suddenly transported back to the antebellum South to save the red-headed boy, Rufus, son of a plantation owner, from drowning. It happens quickly so she acts on instinct, and just as quickly, once Rufus is safe, she is transported back home.
The second time she's pulled back, Rufus is a few years older, and again, in danger of dying. Through this visit, she begins to put the pieces together of why, but never how. (This is something that SF writers need to pay particular attention to: the question of HOW is never as important as the question of WHY. If something doesn't need to be explained, then don't.)
By the third time she goes back, her husband is inadvertently brought with her. This is sort of good, because he's white and can claim she belongs to him, so they don't get separated. But sort of bad, because Dana's not sure if she can get him back home if she transports again. And her connection to Rufus turns out to be more important than a simple cry for help.
If I say anything more, the experience will be ruined for you. I'm not certain why this novel had been labeled Young Adult Fiction at my library (the content is invariably adult), but after reading it, I do believe it should be required reading for high school students. There are things brought out through this story about our American history that they don't teach you in school, and they should.
Some of it will undoubtedly make you cringe, gasp, cry, etc. But it's worth it. You cannot read this book and not feel changed in some way. Highly recommended.