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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
The Other Side of Freedom by Cynthia T Toney takes us back to 1925, pre-Depression Louisiana and the small town of Freedom. Salvatore is just thirteen, but this son of Italian immigrants is a hard-working farm boy, whose parents and uncle have struggled to make a good life for themselves in this rural area. Prohibition is in full swing in America and when Italian mobsters come to town and demand Sal’s father’s help in their plans to rob the Freedom bank, or they will hurt his family, Sal’s family finds themselves in a moral quandary. When the bank robbery goes awry, Sal is left with a secret that could destroy their entire lives and set their family on the run. This young man must weigh up the rights and wrongs of the situation and make a decision that he and the rest of his family can live with. Sal is just discovering his feelings and attraction to his best friend, Antonina, and whatever decisions he and the family make are almost certain to affect the relationship. This is indeed a moral dilemma.
I found The Other Side of Freedom to be a truly compelling coming-of-age story. The setting was beautifully described by Cynthia T Toney and one felt oneself being drawn back to the era of gangsters, the G-Men, and bootlegging across the south. The feel of the story was authentic and the action fast and furious. I particularly found it interesting to compare the experience faced by the Italian and Sicilian immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries to those of the immigrants of today. They faced discrimination and generalisation – they are Sicilians, therefore they must be gangsters and criminals, where today we see they are Arabs, therefore they must be terrorists. I also thought it interesting that Sal found some sympathy and empathy with his black friend, Hiram, in that the prejudices they both faced were somewhat similar. I particularly liked the fact that Toney offered some questions at the end of the book for younger readers to consider and reflect on the story. This is an excellent children’s story that poses some interesting moral dilemmas for young readers to ponder.