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The Underground Railroad and a Passenger Pigeon - an Editorial Review of "Bandy"

Bandy book cover

Book Blurb:

Isaac’s only friend is a passenger pigeon named Bandy. He deludes himself in believing the bird talks to him. Bullied, he is resigned to a life of being the misunderstood bookworm by neighboring boys until a disastrous fire kills his parents and little sisters, sparing only his younger brother, Thomas. He and Thomas are taken in by their Uncle Raymond, an abolitionist, who plans to send Isaac to Virginia to buy Joy, a young slave with debilitating health, from her slave owner, Wil Jericho. Shortly after arriving in Virginia, Isaac learns the ugly truth. The butler who accompanied him on the journey killed his uncle before leaving and plans to do the same to Isaac to steal Raymond’s estate.

Isaac, with Joy, escape into the backwoods of Virginia. Discovering passages of the Underground Railroad, stowing away in carriages, hiding in churches, and outwitting the mercenaries hired by Jericho, the two teens fight tooth and nail to make it to Boston before they’re caught. Will Joy be taken from this life by sickness before she’s found freedom? On their journey, they learn a lot about each other. Isaac promises to bring Joy to Bandy's pond, a heavenly place where peace and serenity reign.

Editorial Review:

"Bandy" is a young adult novel centered around Isaac, a bullied young man who finds solace in his friendship with a passenger pigeon. Set in mid-19th century America, the story follows young Isaac as he confronts personal tragedy and navigates a treacherous journey towards a brighter future.


Isaac is a peculiar and solitary boy whose life is dramatically altered by tragedy when he loses his family. Tragedy strikes when a fire devastates his life, leading Isaac and his younger brother to seek refuge with their abolitionist Uncle Raymond. It's during this time that Isaac forms a deep bond with Joy, a slave burdened with health issues. When Uncle Raymond is tragically killed, Isaac and Joy embark on a daring journey via the Underground Railroad, hoping to secure Joy's freedom and find fulfillment for Isaac.


As Isaac's life is upended by betrayal and loss, Bandy evolves into a tale of survival and courage. Hipkins intimately explores themes of familial duty, social injustice, and the moral complexities faced by young Isaac as he embarks on a perilous escape from the Jericho Plantation. The characters face one challenge after another, making the story both thrilling and enlightening. One might expect a simple story since this is meant for a younger audience, but this story is a delightful contrast filled with unexpected twists and turns.


The character development in the book is also excellent, particularly Isaac's growth from a vulnerable boy to a resilient young man driven by determination and compassion. His companionship with Joy, an enslaved girl fighting for her freedom, adds depth and soul to the narrative, showing the power of friendship and human connection.


Hipkins’ storytelling is nothing short of genius, weaving a narrative that balances sadness with hope, loneliness with companionship, and darkness with newfound light. The descriptions of landscapes, historical details, and emotional nuances evoke a strong sense of time and place. The pacing is excellent, too - each chapter propels the story forward with suspenseful encounters, heartfelt dialogue, and unexpected alliances that keep the narrative engaging.


What makes Bandy truly compelling is its exploration of human connection. Isaac's bond with Bandy symbolizes hope, while his relationship with Joy embodies empathy and courage in the face of injustice. Through these characters, Hipkins invites readers to contemplate ideas like the true meaning of resilience, sacrifice, and the enduring spirit of those striving for freedom and the cost that people in the past have paid for it.


But why, Joy? Why?”

You needed a friend, Isaac. And…and I needed a friend. Don’t you see? You can’t hear him now because you have me, and I have you.

And…and you are growing up.”


Despite addressing difficult topics, the story maintains an upbeat tone. Ultimately, it celebrates the enduring power of friendship and the magic found in unlikely places. Hipkins fearlessly confronts the topic of slavery with remarkable sensitivity and authenticity. Through subtle yet powerful prose, he exposes the abhorrence of slavery while dignifying those who endured its cruelty.


At its heart, “Bandy” is a story of friendship blossoming amidst adversity, brimming with adventure. Isaac and Joy navigate their pains and revelations together, sharing their histories and contemplating the realities of their world. Through their struggles and triumphs, the characters embark on a journey that leads them to a place of healing and renewal. As readers follow Isaac and Joy through their adventures, they are treated to a story that not only entertains but also inspires.


Mrs. Jericho bought her books on geometry and physics, and she devoured them. Of course, this was all dangerous ground we were treading.”

 “What was so dangerous about it?” asked Isaac.

It is illegal in Virginia to teach a slave to read and write, never mind mathematics. When Wil Jericho found out, he was livid. He beat me and Joy, and sold me to your uncle who was visiting the plantation at the time. He purchased my freedom and took me with him back here to Massachusetts. You see, your uncle is what they call an abolitionist.


"The era depicted in the novel is a fascinating period of history, and it sheds important light on the treatment of Black individuals during that time. It offers valuable insights into forms of punishment, cultural values, and social norms that were prevalent but often overlooked. This is a book that will appeal to both adult and young adult readers for its entertainment value and educational content. This novel delves into a turbulent era of American history that is crucial for young people to understand. Exploring this period before emancipation through stories like this one provides valuable insights and encourages important discussions.


Young readers will discover meaningful lessons conveyed through truly exceptional storytelling. Hipkins masterfully presents the inequities of slavery through the eyes of children, offering a poignant perspective that resonates deeply. "Bandy" is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of friendship during times of the greatest inequality.


The writing in "Bandy" is both engaging and enlightening, treating its subjects with honesty and respect. This novel champions the underdog in society and those who face challenges or are different in some way. Hipkins infuses the narrative with heart and emotion, leading readers on a poignant journey that culminates in a satisfying conclusion. This is definitely a book that will leave a lasting impact on its audience.


Perhaps Hipkins's greatest accomplishment lies in his ability to craft a story that is simultaneously complex and accessible, appealing to readers of all ages. He delivers a richly textured narrative filled with adventure, emotion, and profound insights – overall, a delightful read that provides a window into history while delivering an entertaining story. It's a recommended choice for anyone interested in historical fiction with depth and excitement.


Bandy” by Craig Hipkins receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company


HFC Highly Recommended Award of Excellence


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