Cover image for Trouble don't last
Trouble don't last
Pearsall, Shelley.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, [2002]

Physical Description:
237 pages : map ; 22 cm
Samuel, an eleven-year-old Kentucky slave, and Harrison, the elderly slave who helped raise him, attempt to escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
Reading Level:
720 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.8 8.0 61331.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.4 14 Quiz: 33280 Guided reading level: T.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Eleven-year-old Samuel was born as Master Hackler's slave, and working the Kentucky farm is the only life he's ever known--until one dark night in 1859, that is. With no warning, cranky old Harrison, a fellow slave, pulls Samuel from his bed and, together, they run. The journey north seems much more frightening than Master Hackler ever was, and Samuel's not sure what freedom means aside from running, hiding, and starving. But as they move from one refuge to the next on the Underground Railroad, Samuel uncovers the secret of his own past--and future. And old Harrison begins to see past a whole lifetime of hurt to the promise of a new life--and a poignant reunion-- in Canada. In a heartbreaking and hopeful first novel, Shelley Pearsall tells a suspenseful, emotionally charged story of freedom and family.Trouble Don't Lastincludes an historical note and map.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-10. Far from the romantic Underground Railroad stories about brave abolitionists and hide-and-seek adventure, this powerful historical novel is harsh and realistic, not only about the brutal effects of slavery that the runaways carry with them forever but also about the prejudice and hardship they encounter on their journey to freedom. First-novelist Pearsall is a museum historian in Ohio and her astonishing story is based on fact. Her runaway heroes are brave and determined to save each other; they're also rough, mean, and frightened. The conductors aren't saints: some are scared runaways and their help is often limited. The patrollers are always close. The story is told by Samuel, 11, who is forced to run with Harrison, an old slave, from the Kentucky plantation to Ohio in 1859, and finally to freedom in Canada. Harrison hates taking orders, even from the conductors, and Samuel rages at having to disguise himself as a girl. Yet when they find shelter with caring people, Samuel says with simple eloquence that his words of thanks are too small and what he wants to say is too big. This is a thrilling escape story, right until the very last chapter, but always there's the memory of daily life under slavery and the anguish of family separation. Samuel's mother was sold off when he was a baby: will he ever see her again? --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

An 11-year-old boy and the elderly captive who helped raise him seek escape via the Underground Railroad. In a starred review, PW wrote, "This memorable portrayal of their haphazard, serendipitous and dangerous escape to freedom proves gripping from beginning to end." Ages 8-12. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-Strong characters and an inventive, suspenseful plot distinguish Pearsall's first novel, a story of the Underground Railroad in 1859. Samuel, the 11-year-old slave who narrates the story, is awakened by 70-year-old Harrison, who has decided to flee their tyrannical Kentucky master. The questions that immediately flood the boy's mind provide the tension that propels the novel: What has precipitated the old man's sudden desire for freedom? Why would he risk taking Samuel along? Harrison is mindful of the dangers and wary of trusting even the strangers who might offer help. Samuel, an impulsive boy who seems prone to trouble, is grudgingly accustomed to his life of servitude and reluctant to leave it. As days of hiding and nights of stealthy movement take them farther away from their former lives, Harrison and Samuel forge a bond that strengthens their resolve. Faith, luck, and perseverance see the man and boy safely into Canada, where a new journey-one of self-discovery and self-healing-begins. Pearsall's extensive research is deftly woven into each scene, providing insight into plantation life, 19th-century social mores, religious and cultural norms, and the political turmoil in the years preceding the Civil War. Samuel's narrative preserves the dialect, the innocence, the hope, and even the superstitions of slaves like Harrison and himself, whose path to freedom is filled with kindness and compassion as well as humiliation and scorn. This is a compelling story that will expand young readers' understanding of the Underground Railroad and the individual acts of courage it embraced.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



TROUBLE Truth is, trouble follows me like a shadow. To begin with, I was born a slave when other folks is born white. My momma was a slave and her momma a slave before that, so you can see we are nothing but a family of trouble. Master sold Momma before I was even old enough to remember her, and two old slaves named Harrison and Lilly had to raise me up like I was one of their own, even though I wasn't. Then, when I was in my eleventh year, the old slave Harrison decided to jump into trouble himself, and he tried to run away. Problem was, I had to go with him. THE BROKEN PLATE It all started on a just-so day in the month of September 1859, when I broke my master's plate while clearing the supper table. I tried to tell Lilly that if Master Hackler hadn't taken a piece of bread and sopped pork fat all over his old plate, I wouldn't have dropped it. But Lilly kept her lips pressed tight together, saying nothing as she scraped the vegetable scraps into the hog pails. "And Young Mas Seth was sticking his foot this-away and that-away, tryin to trip me up," I added. Lilly didn't even look at me, just kept scraping and scraping with her big, brown hands. "Maybe it was a spirit--could be Old Mas Hackler's dead spirit--that got ahold of me right then and made that plate fly right outta my hands." Lilly looked up and snorted, "Spirits. If Old Mas Hackler wanted to haunt this house, he'd go an' turn a whole table on its end, not bother with one little china plate in your hands." She pointed her scraping knife at me. "You gotta be more careful, Samuel, or they gonna sell you off sure as anything, and I can't do nothin to help you then. You understand me, child?" "Yes'm," I answered, looking down at my feet. Every time Lilly said something like this to me, which was more often than not, it always brought up the same picture in my head. A picture of my momma. She had been sold when I was hardly even standing on my own two legs. Right after the Old Master Hackler had died. Lilly said that selling off my momma paid for his fancy carved headstone and oak burying box, but I'm not sure all that is true. In my mind, I could see my momma being taken away in the back of Master's wagon, just the way Lilly told me. Her name was Hannah, and she was a tall, straight-backed woman with gingerbread skin like mine. Lilly said that she was wearing a blue-striped headwrap tied around her hair, and she was leaning over with her head down in her hands when they rode off. The only thing Lilly knew was that they took her to the courthouse in Washington, Kentucky, to sell her. After my momma had gone, it had fallen on Lilly's shoulders to raise me as if I was her own boy, even though she wasn't any relation of mine and she'd already had two sons and four daughters, all sold off or dead. But she said I had more trouble in me than all six of her children rolled up together. "I gotta be on your heels day and night," she was always telling me. "And even that don't keep the bad things from happening." When she was finished with the hog pails, Lilly came over to me. "How's that chin doin?" She lifted the cold rag I'd been holding and looked underneath. "Miz Catherine got good aim, I give her that." After I had broken the china plate, Master Hackler's loud, redheaded wife, Miz Catherine, had flung her table fork at me. "You aren't worth the price of a broken plate, you know that?" she hollered, and sent one of the silver forks flying. Good thing I had sense enough not to duck my head down, so it hit right where she was aiming, square on my chin. Even though it stung all the way up to my ear, I didn't make a face. I was half-proud of myself for that. "You pick up every little piece," Miz Catherine had snapped, pointing at the floor. "Every single piece with those worthless, black fingers of yours, and I'll decide what to do about your carelessness." After that, Lilly had come barreling in to save me. She had helped me sweep up the white shards that had flown all over, and she told Miz Catherine that she would pay for the plate. Master usually gave Lilly a dollar to keep every Christmas. "What you think that plate cost?" Lilly asked Miz Catherine as she swept. "How much do you have?" Miz Catherine sniffed. "Maybe $4 saved up." "Then I imagine it will cost you $4." So the redheaded devil Miz Catherine had taken most of Lilly's savings just for my broken plate--although, truth was, Lilly really had $6 tucked away. And she had given me a banged-up chin. But, as Lilly always said, it could have been worse. Then we heard Master Hackler's heavy footsteps coming down the hall. He walks hard on his heels, so you can always tell him from the others. "You be quiet as a country graveyard," Lilly warned. "And gimme that cloth." Quick as anything, she snatched the cloth from my chin and began wiping a plate with it. "Still cleaning up from supper?" Master Hackler said, peering around the doorway. "Samuel's made you mighty slow this evening, Lilly." "Yes, he sho' has." Lilly kept her head down and wiped the plates in fast circles. "But I always git everything done, you know. Don't sleep a wink till everything gits done." Excerpted from Trouble Don't Last by Shelley Pearsall All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 Troublep. 1
2 The Broken Platep. 2
3 Harrison's Warningp. 8
4 Old Master Hackler's Ghostp. 13
5 Onionsp. 22
6 Still as a Treep. 31
7 Night Scarep. 36
8 Spiders and Candlesp. 43
9 Two Fingers Gonep. 50
10 River of Deathp. 57
11 Cornfield Bottomsp. 66
12 The River Manp. 72
13 Hetty Scottp. 76
14 A Forest of Silencep. 85
15 The Gray Yarnp. 95
16 Widow Taylorp. 102
17 Beneath Hay and Feed Sacksp. 111
18 Our Poor Colored Brethrenp. 115
19 Laid to Restp. 126
20 Carryin Onp. 132
21 Ham, Eggs, and Miz Kettlep. 136
22 A Stringer of Fishp. 144
23 Green Murdockp. 149
24 Ace of Spadesp. 162
25 Negro Hollowp. 171
26 Red Stars in a White Skyp. 180
27 Harrison's Secretp. 191
28 Snow Comingp. 196
29 Ordee Leep. 202
30 Going Northp. 208
31 Haste Will Be Your Undoingp. 220
32 Keep Your Eye on the Sunp. 227
Mapp. 231
Author's Notep. 233
Selected Bibliographyp. 237
Acknowledgmentsp. 239