Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free

by Kathleen Karr

Libby was arrested for shoplifting. Ma McCreary is guilty of murdering her abusive... read more

Libby was arrested for shoplifting. Ma McCreary is guilty of murdering her abusive husband. Gladys neglected the infants in her home for children of unwed mothers, until the babies’ starved bodies were found buried in her backyard. Flo was a “chastity offender,” and Molly Matches worked as an arsonist for hire. These women and others are inmates at the Sherborn Women’s Prison in the early 1900s. In addition to their incarcerated status, many share a gift for music, as the new chaplain discovers when she casts them in an ambitious performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. Based on actual events at Massachusetts’ Sherborn Prison for Women in 1914, the book deftly incorporates issues of prison reform and women’s rights into a snapshot of the time. Although Libby’s dramatic story ends on an optimistic high note, the lives of the other inmates are realistic and unsentimental. The concluding author’s note, detailing the history on which the novel was built, is especially compelling and clearly separates the facts from fiction. (Ages 12–15)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2004

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