Reviewed by Mollie Waters
The Salvation of Miss Lucretia is the fourth installment in Ted Dunagan’s series for young adult readers. The books feature two young boys, one white and one black, who are able to overcome the difficulties of the segregated South during the 1940s in order to form a lasting friendship. In their many adventures, the two boys have defeated moonshiners, outsmarted robbers, and even tangled with the KKK. In The Salvation of Miss Lucretia, they face their toughest challenge to date: a voodoo queen.
Ted, a young white boy, and his best friend Poudlum, who is black, are real entrepreneurs. By charging hunters to use his famous squirrel dog, Old Bill, Ted has made quite a bit of money, and now he is going to help Poudlum train his puppy Rip to hunt, too. To that end, the boys visit Mister Leon Autrey, a black man who is also the largest property owner in the area. Mister Autrey has agreed to let Ted and Poudlum train the dogs on his land. Before the boys set out on their trip, Mister Autrey warns them to stay away from the portion of his property where Miss Lucretia lives. Poudlum knows a thing or two about Miss Lucretia, and he regales Ted with tales of her voodoo magic.
The very night the boys begin their adventure, their dogs go missing. After searching for the dogs all day without success, the boys fall asleep deep in the woods, only to awaken to find their guns are now gone as well. Right away, they suspect Miss Lucretia, so they make their way to her shack. Hungry and worn out, the boys are pleased to discover some delicious smells coming from the old woman’s cabin. Even though they are fairly sure she has set a trap for them, they enter the cabin and eat the food anyhow. Overcome with sleep because the food has been drugged, they wake up the next morning to find themselves chained to the floor.
When Miss Lucretia finally shows herself, Ted and Poudlum are surprised that she is just a poor old woman, albeit a clever one. Still, they are in quite a predicament, but they begin to realize that Miss Lucretia may be in one as well. The boys want to help her, but helping a voodoo queen may come with more repercussions than they are prepared to handle.
Although The Salvation of Miss Lucretia is the fourth book in Ted Dunagan’s Ted and Poudlum series, Dunagan has managed to keep the boys’ adventures diverse and engaging. Each book pits the boys against older and supposedly wiser forces, and while they have had some close calls, they manage to work together to defeat the evils they encounter. Mark Twain proved in his works that children are often smarter than adults, and Dunagan appears to have embraced Twain’s premise. Ted and Poudlum usually outsmart most of the adults in the books, but where Huck had Jim as a guiding force, the boys have Ted’s patient and understanding Uncle Curvin to lend a hand or offer advice when they need it.
Another beauty about Dunagan’s writing is that he truly understands place. All four of his works are set in Clarke County, Alabama. Dunagan grew up in this area, and his knowledge of both the location and its challenges shine through in his careful, but not overdone, descriptions. Having lived in the rural South before segregation, Dunagan understands the difficulties Ted and Poudlum face because of their interracial friendship. The boys realize that the only thing that separates them, their color, is not enough to stop them from being friends. And when questions about the “white world” or “black world” arise, these two boys are not afraid to tackle the tough issues head-on. Their faith in one another is the most endearing thread that runs throughout the works.
Perfect for children (and adults as well) desiring adventure in their summer reading, The Salvation of Miss Lucretia will not disappoint. Devoted fans and new ones will enjoy keeping up with Ted and Poudlum once again as they continue to get themselves in and out of trouble in Dunagan’s delightful series.
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