A heartbreaking history of prejudice, family ties, and the loss of innocence.When twelve-year-old Titus Sullivan decides to run away to join his Uncle Amos and older brother, Lem, he finds an alien and exciting world in Oil Springs, the first Canadian oil boomtown of the 19th century. The Enniskillen swamp is slick with oil, and it takes enterprising folk to plumb its depths. The adventurers who work there are a tough lot of individuals. In this hard world, Titus becomes friends with a young black boy, the child of slaves who came to Canada on the Underground Railroad. When tragedy strikes in the form of a race riot, Titus’s loyalties are tested as he struggles to deal with the terrible fallout. Though the characters are fictitious, the novel is based on a race riot that occurred in Oil Springs, Ontario, on March 20, 1863. Grease Town is historical fiction at its finest.
Grease Town follows 12 year old Titus Sullivan’s move to Oil Springs, Ontario. Titus is like many children on the cusp of their teen years, full of quick retorts before thinking their words through.
The novel shows a unique history to an American reader. Seeing how Canadian residents responded to fleeing whites avoiding war and escaped slaves seeking freedom, was an eye opening experience. There wasn’t a hundred year’s worth of foul sentiment, and so the trouble in Oil Springs simmers before coming to a boil, to quote Titus’ account of how the riot came about.
Most of the characterization in the book is realistic. Titus is a little spitfire who’s continually fighting to be heard by the men in his community, who deem him to be a child. Isabelle was a refreshing case of the women’s rights movement growing. Sometimes, Uncle Amos’ character dismisses Titus’ concerns in order to forward the plot. When Titus shouts for the first time at the end of the book, I think his family would have noticed.
The ending was good, in that it was realistic while not depressing. Wrongs are dealt with, but everything isn’t happily ever after.
I recommend this book to early teens, or older readers who want another take on the civil rights movement around the American civil war.
ARC provided by Tundra Books via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers. Review first published March 17, 2010