(2005), an historical novel for young adults by award-winning American author Nancy Rawles, is an account of Sadie Watson, who survives the horrors of slavery and the upheaval of Reconstruction. At the same time, it is a love story revolving on Sadie's relationship with Jim, who himself is something of a literary icon. He is the same Jim from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
, a runaway slave who rafts with Huck down the Mississippi River. Since Twain's novel doesn't elaborate on Jim's backstory, My Jim
gives the character a rich history that highlights the barbarity of slavery, the beauty of first love, and the sacrifices one makes out of family responsibility.
The novel is told in three parts. In the first, titled "Marianne Libre," it is 1884, and Sadie Watson's granddaughter Marianne must choose whether to stay in Louisiana or move away to marry. Her grandfather, Papa Duban, is dead, but Marianne, close to her grandmother, does not want to leave Shreveport. Marianne's predicament compels Sadie to talk about Jim and her children Lizbeth and Jonnie.
The second section of My Jim
, "Sadie Watson," is a series of stories highlighting the connections between several objects and formative events in Sadie's life. She tells Marianne the stories behind each object. The first is a knife, which Sadie got from her own mother, who had used it to perform medical treatments and healing work at a plantation where she was enslaved.
Next, Sadie picks up a piece of fabric from Jim's hat to relay the story linked to it. Jim is hired as a longshoreman by Master "Mas" Watson, the man who enslaves Sadie. Sadie identifies Jim's beloved hat as the thing that makes her fall in love with him. They soon start a family. Mas Watson dies, and his slaves—including Sadie and her children, Lizbeth and Jonnie—are sold to cruel Mas Stevens. Jim remains on the Watson plantation, but he routinely slips away to visit Sadie and his children. One night, while Jim sleeps, Sadie cuts a small section of fabric from his hat to keep for herself as a reminder of him. Jim is then caught on the Stevens plantation, beaten, and subsequently flees. When his hat is discovered in the river, Sadie assumes he is dead.
The story that follows is about a shard from a broken bowl. The bowl was brought from the Congo by Sadie's grandmother. Like Sadie, both her mother and grandmother were healers.
The next story is connected to tobacco. After Mas Stevens beats Jim, he beats Sadie as well, confiscates her children, and locks her in a barn where tobacco is cured. Sadie is moved to a position where she cooks for Mas Stevens. She meets a man named Nate who tells her that Jim is alive. Mas Stevens regularly rapes Sadie, and after he brings her daughter Lizbeth—whom Sadie has not seen in some time—to also work in the kitchen, he is intent on raping her, too. However, Sadie gradually poisons him, using the Congolese bowl to prepare the poison. Ultimately, she chooses not to kill him. Mas Stevens smashes the bowl, save for the one broken piece Sadie retains.
The ensuing story is about a button. On the way to church one day, a button on a buggy-driver's jacket enchants Sadie's daughter, Lizbeth. The driver gives Lizbeth the button, which she holds each night as she prays for her father to return.
A tooth is the centerpiece of the next story. Jonnie is beaten by his fellow slaves, who think Sadie is a witch. Sadie removes a tooth that Jonnie's attackers have nearly knocked out of him. She goes to the main house to get cloves for Jonnie's sore mouth; Mas Stevens catches her there. Enraged, he sells Jonnie, leaving Sadie devastated. In retaliation, she sets the tobacco packhouse on fire, and Mas Stevens sells her to a slave-trader. Then, Jim finds her as she is about to sail away on the slave ship. He brings her few disparate belongings—the knife, the shard of bowl, the tooth, the fabric from the hat—and adds to it a pipe he got from a boy named Huck Finn, with whom he rowed down the Mississippi. With no way to save her, Jim ties Sadie's scarf around his waist as a symbol of binding the two of them together.
Sadie sails to Louisiana, where she is sold to Old Man Cyprien and put to work on his plantation. She is raped by the man who runs the plantation store, becoming pregnant with Marianne's mother, Elise. Cyprien houses Sadie with another slave, Andrew, with whom she has four sons. The first two sons are sold. When the Emancipation Proclamation is signed, Sadie and Andrew leave with their two remaining sons and Elise, in search of a better life. Elise meets the man who will be Marianne's father. After Andrew and Marianne's father are killed during a massacre, Sadie, her children, and her new granddaughter live in the woods to escape the chaos and instability of Reconstruction. They eventually reenter society.
In the book's final section, "My Nanna," both Marianne and Sadie's perspectives are shared as they make a quilt, each piece a symbol of the larger story of their family. This is when Sadie reveals that her lost-love, Jim, tracked her down when she was living with her husband, Papa Duban. Jim informs her that Lizbeth has died, but Lizbeth gave him her treasured button to give to Sadie if he ever found her. Jonnie's fate remains unknown. Jim tries to persuade
Sadie to run away with him. Sadie declines, citing her responsibilities to the children she still has with her and to Papa Duban, a noble man who is raising children not his own. She remains in love with Jim, but for the sake of her family, she lets him go.