I love to read historical fiction. When I read really well written historical fiction, I feel I get a double pleasure, both from reading an exciting story and learning something about history at the same time. However, I hate to discover anachronisms in historical novels, and I especially cannot tolerate psychological anachronisms. By that I mean having the novel’s characters act or think in ways that would not be typical or even imaginable from their historical point of view.
No such problem exists in Bound by Sally Gunning. Not only is this story about a young girl bound at age seven as an indentured servant in colonial New England rich in historical and accurate detail, but the girl Alice Cole acts exactly as you would expect her to, given her family, fortune, education, and surroundings. If Alice had acted self confident, brash, and entitled as a 21st century child might have done, we would not have believed the harrowing dilemmas she finds herself facing, nor would we have believed the various stratagems she devises to save herself. She makes the mistakes an undereducated, undervalued, ill informed servant girl would make. She is forced into situations that her unprotected status seems to invite. She does not know whom to trust, and she sometimes abuses the trust of those who seek to help her. Yet something universal, the need for protection, safety, and for affection strengthens and guides Alice, making her feel and think like a human being, rather than an object to be owned and abused.
Early in the book Alice, now a young teenager and with several years left to her indenture, flees her abusive employer and seeks refuge with a friendly widow named Lyddie Berry living on Cape Cod. But even in the early colonial times when local travel took days and the printed word was scarce and illiteracy common, an escaped servant could not hope to remain hidden for long. Soon Alice finds herself bound in more ways than her indenture papers would commit her and facing judgments that could take her life as well as her freedom.
The dramatic and dangerous colonial politics of the 1760’s serves as the backdrop for this story of a young girl discovering the meaning of freedom and how much she is willing to risk to attain it. Reading Bound is to step back into those tumultuous, world changing times and at the same time to care, very much, about the fate of one young servant girl.