Set Me Free
Ann Clare LeZotte
Published September 21, 2021
About Set Me Free
Three years after being kidnapped and rendered a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment to determine the cause of her deafness, fourteen year old Mary Lambert is summoned from her home in Martha’s Vineyard to the mainland to teach a younger deaf girl to communicate with sign language. She can’t help but wonder, Can a child of eight with no prior language be taught?
Still, weary of domestic life and struggling to write as she used to, Mary pours all her passion into the pursuit of freeing this child from the prison of her isolation. But when she arrives at the manor, Mary discovers that there is much more to the girl’s story — and the circumstances of her confinement — than she ever could have imagined. Freeing her suddenly takes on a much greater meaning — and risk.
Wow. I just finished reading this book, and I feel like so much of it is still running through my head. First off, I have to note that the historical setting was totally immersive. The writing style, the descriptions, the word choice, all of that felt like it belonged in the time period in which the story is set, in the very early 1800s. I felt like I could perfectly picture the island community where Mary lives.
The story has a strong sense of mystery and adventure to it. Mary, still fresh from her own trauma, journeys to a far away estate to care for a young girl. She doesn’t know much about the girl’s condition or her past, and still less about the house and staff who live there. She meets staff members with secrets and prejudices. As she begins to understand what the real situation is, Mary only becomes more desperate to help the young girl achieve her freedom and independence.
The story world captivated me, and so did Mary and the girl she at first calls Ladybird. The relationship between those two girls felt real and powerful. They are student and teacher, but so much more than that, too. I feel like this story really honors the reflective experience that happens when someone sets out to teach or give something and in return receives and learns so much more than they expected.
Another favorite thing about this book for me is the section at the back that offers historical details and context for elements from the story as well as things which inspired the book. I loved getting to know those extra bits of history and seeing how they fit into the way the story was constructed or influenced the book.
Readers who enjoy historical fiction will love this book. It reminded me of books like THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE by Avi. I haven’t read SHOW ME A SIGN, also by Clare LeZotte, which tells the story of Mary’s kidnapping and escape from a scientist who uses her as a “live specimen” in his experiments, but it’s now really high on my reading list!
Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.
Mary is Deaf and lives on Martha’s Vineyard, a community in which one in four people are Deaf. Several other characters are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. Minor characters are Native American.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mary is a Christian and prays and quotes the Bible in several places.
A girl wears a chain on her ankle, tying her to the floor. Mary notices bruises and scars and guesses at the brutal treatment of a young girl. Someone attacks Mary, trying to choke her.
Several characters make racist comments against Black or Native American characters and/or show prejudice against Deaf characters. Mary is quick to condemn those behaviors and to chastise herself when she doesn’t speak up.
A young girl is sedated against her will or without her knowledge. Mary speaks against this forcefully.
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