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  A Book Review of When Daylight Comes by Ellen Howard
Imagine lying in your bed sick one morning, and that afternoon being taken prisoner by those who were supposed to do your chores for you. In When Daylight Comes by Ellen Howard, this happens to Helena, a young girl living on the island St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The setting for this environment is a large island with many different sections to it, including forested areas as well as a visible coastline all around it. This island has many black slaves that work on it, with a majority of the families on the island in fact owning slaves. When Helena's family goes on vacation to visit their cousins on another island, Helena is forced to stay home when she becomes sick right before the trip. A couple of weeks later as she begins to feel better she hears people in her house, then the screams of her grandfather before she is dragged out of bed by black slaves from the island. The slaves were starting a rebellion against their white masters for their freedom. From this point on in the book, Helena is officially declared a personal slave to Queen Lodama, the new ruler of the island. Helena is told that she is the last remaining white girl on the island, and that everyone else she had known was killed.

Starting out as being a slave for them, Helena still thinks the way she did in her old life. She does not like being told what to do, especially by her former personal slave Caroline. Before the revolt Helena hardly ever mentioned a few words to Caroline that were not commands or orders, but soon she begins to form a friendship with her and sees that blacks are not people that could never have a proper place in society, a fact that Helena often had heard her grandfather saying. After these beginning incidents, Helena starts to develop a feel for the work she does, which includes field work later on in the book. As Helena is developing these skills with her hands though, those in command of her are having troubles of their own. There are constant battles between competing black "tribes" on the island and many die in battles among them. Towards the middle of the book Queen Lodama and the other women in the camp Helena is staying at leave the men and find a camp of their own. They thought they were doing too much of the work and that there was not enough food in the men's camp, with Queen Lodama needing more food as of her recently becoming pregnant. In this new camp Helena comes to adopt a child whose mother ran out on her. Helena cares for this child during her time in the new camp, and later comes to take on a second child, a boy with weak eyes. As the leaders of the men's camp begin to realize the blacks cannot win fighting against each other, they begin to try to gain peace with the other black tribes on the island.


This picture from the back of the book shows the white man in front of the black man, but the black man is looking towards his possible future.

Helena is a very obnoxious girl at the beginning of the story, not seeing the light and still living with her own ideas that black people could not function as actual members of society. As she is taken slave by them though and forced to work the same way they did for her, she begins to realize their reasons for doing what they did and why in the past they acted the way they did. This realization allows her to gain more understanding for their culture and begin to further appreciate what they can do. Early in her life it is obvious that the idea of what black folks could do was communicated to her incorrectly, causing her to form a wrong idea about them. The same could be said for the black folks in the story. They grew up slaves to these white masters, and because of that think that their masters are lazy and worthless human beings. The blacks prove to Helena through this story that they are intelligent, and could very well perform as members of society. An example of such a realization is when Helena and Caroline end up playing in the ocean when they are washing their bodies. "Helena laughed too, found her footing again, and splashed back at Caroline. Then they were rolling and tumbling in the water like two puppies, splashing in a puddle. For a little while, Helena forgot everything but the warmth of the sun and coolness of the sea and the answering laughter in Caroline's eyes" (66). Helena put away the thoughts she had about Caroline before at this point, and realized that she was just like any other kid her age. In the same way the slaves thought of Helena. Working in the field later in the book, Breddu, a strong woman who used to do field work makes the comment that Helena can do half the work of a child and is worthless. "I say, kill the missy!" said Breffu's voice. "She do half a child's work, or less" (82). From the work that Breffu saw Helena do before the rebellion,she thought that she was weak. Even if this was true it does not mean that Helena could not change that though. As Helena is working the fields with Breffu she gradually becomes stronger, and near the end of her field working days Breffu mutters to her one day "as she strolled past, a low, reluctant, "Good" (122). In both these cases between the two groups, they see what each other are capable of, and that neither group is evil, and that those thoughts are simply based on a miscommunication they were raised with, or grew up thinking.

This idea of miscommunication is also one of the themes that can be found in this book. A theme is a recurring point that occurs in the story and makes that idea understandable to the reader. The ignorance between the two cultures is seen all the way through the book. When Helena was told to go clean out a room the slaves had taken over along with Caroline she is irritated that after they finish the job, Caroline doesn't want to help her sweep the floor. If Helena had given Caroline such a task before the revolt she probably would not have helped at all, as well as not felt guilty about it. This theme of ignorance between the two cultures is brought up many times in the beginning, especially as Helena is getting used to the life of a slave.

This book was written mostly in a simple format to understand, and should not be a challenge for most readers. Told from Helena's perspective, it also gives the perspective of others, and allows the reader to get a broad idea of what was going on during this time. This detail of the different people told allows the reader to really get into this event, and fully understand it and the facts it presents. When Daylight Comes was Ellen Howard's second book, and was brought about as a result of a trip to the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was there that in 1733 the St. Jan slave rebellion occurred. Ellen, who was born in New Bern, North Carolina, but has lived in Portland, Oregon since she was six, wondered what children who were living on the island during that time were caught up in. Overall I found the book to be rather interesting to read, although if not a little too dark at times. The dark moments in the book can make it a tad scary for some at times, but mostly these events that occur simply allow the reader to fully understand the horror of what is happening and why it is happening. I think it is important to read this book in order to understand how a person can change from one mindset to another simply because of the events that she saw in those months that she was forced to be a slave. She began to see herself in a different way and came to realize that many of the ideas that she had thought before the slave revolt were wrong. I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to learn about this particular topic in time and how being exposed to the events such as Helena was in this book can change you for the better and make you realize things you had never thought of before. If you want to read a book that allows you to further understand what people of this time and place were thinking, then this book would make an excellent choice.



Jon Cox

Partner Name: N/A

Due: 12/10/01 When Daylight Comes
by Ellen Howard