Book Review: Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts

Posted June 23, 2021 by Richetta in Adult Non-Fiction, Book Reviews / 0 Comments

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Book Review: Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave RevoltsWake by Rebecca Hall
Published by Simon and Schuster on June 2021
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

When it comes to history and women, I will absolutely take a seat at the table and listen to the story. Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts is a graphic novel that is also a memoir. It is the story of historian Dr. Rebecca Hall’s personal journey as she researched women-led slave revolts. Spanning from the Middle Passage to colonial New York, she works to piece together their stories about their leadership as they fought for their freedom. 

Book Title Versus Book Description

Now, let’s clear this up first though. If you picked up this book on title and cover alone and read it, you might have felt misled. I did. I was so hyped up to find out about the women leaders of slave revolts and read their stories that I had never heard of that I breezed right on by the actual book description…It happens…I am guilty, yes, but learn from me my friends! 

Quick Synopsis

During her research she works to piece together the stories of several enslaved women from several different revolts. One portion of the story that stuck with me was Dr. Hall’s encounter with the insurance company. Actually, let me rewind, her treatment at each research facility was absolutely appalling. The lack of respect she endured in order to piece together and tell these women’s stories was commendable. Hall details how she had to take breaks in order to protect her own mental health. She also weaves her own family’s history into her narrative to give context to her work as an African American historian. 

“Generally, the slave ship crews remained oblivious to the agency of enslaved women.”

Historical Records and Reality

Would I have liked more of the stories about the slave revolts? Yes! But that is the reality that African Americans must deal with when researching our past. The difficulty that Hall describes in accessing archives and making connections is a real one. It echoes the same frustrations we have when it comes to researching our family histories. Dead ends. Secrets. Dehumanizing records. Heartbreaking facts. 

Illustrating the Past in the Present

She takes on the difficult job of piecing together information that she gathers and crafting a narrative for each woman she comes across. The illustrations boost these narratives and the connection the author makes between the past and present; her own history and the history of these women. Illustrator Hugo Martinez does an excellent job of demonstrating the terrible histories that haunt the same places we still travel, work and call home today. It’s important to remember that places like New York City, whom many have forgotten used to be a state that embraced slavery, are haunted with the the untold stories of men, women and children who suffered enslavement. 

Would I Read it Again: Probably not unless I was using it as a reference for research I was doing.

Educator Recommendations: Social Studies Teachers: This would be a good text to use when talking to students about thinking and researching like a historian. The author describes her thought process on where she does her research and why. This also might be an interesting approach to allowing students to illustrate their learning process on a project. A pivot from “shoe me the final product” to “show me HOW you got to the final product.”

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