Margaret Cruickshank is a precocious girl with a big imagination and a big heart; a heart that is determined to help her friend Zulma get back home to Tobago. Margaret is a fourteen year old girl living in Canada with her mother, father, brother and sister. She is the middle child and behaves as such. She is often scolded for being feisty and is always getting into trouble for one reason or another.
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At the start of the new school year she meets a new student Zulma. Zulma is from Tobago and is homesick. She does not want to be in Canada at all. An idea is birthed in Margaret that she could help Zulma to buy a ticket back to Tobago with money that she has been earning and asking her mother to put aside for her.
To keep Zulma's mind off her worries Margaret creates the game 'Underground Railroad' in which they depict a modern version of Harriet Tubman and the journeys taken to get slaves to freedom. Most of their classmates are involved in the game and it is quite exciting until the participants begin to act out in reality what takes place in the game. Several of them have taken to name-calling as well and this brings the parents in. Margaret confesses everything and the game comes to an end.
This is the last straw for Margaret's father and he now decides to follow through on his threat that if she got into one more scrape she would be sent to Barbados for the summer and get some good West Indian discipline from his mother.
Margaret decides that she will not allow this to happen as she cannot leave Zulma alone for the summer with an abusive step-father and cowardly mother. She knows that her mother will not give her the money she has saved, especially for this purpose. She is confused as to what to do when she makes a startling discovery of her mother's savings stash. It amounts to seven hundred dollars. Margaret decides to secretly buy tickets for both herself and Zulma to run away to Tobago but her conscience grips her. She seeks out the middle-aged Mrs. Billings in order to get her advice as reasoning with her mother would be useless. Mrs. Billings listens and shares a bit of her childhood tales of when she ran away. This is enough to dissuade Margaret from doing this as well.
Mrs. Billings meets with each set of parents to try to reason with them but the fathers are immovable. Mrs. Billings tries again, this time meeting with the mothers only. They decide to allow the girls to go to Tobago for the summer but the plans have to be kept a secret. Zulma is actually being sent to Tobago for good as her mother finally realizes that she is much happier being back in the islands. The plans go without a hitch until Mr. Clarke, Zulma's step-father, finds and reads a letter written to Zulma's grandmother. He turns on her mother as usual and beats her badly. They seek refuge at Mrs. Billings. Mr. Cruickshank, Margaret's father is informed of the plans by Mr. Clarke. He confronts his wife who decides to stand up to him for the first time. He is made to see reason and acquiesces. The novel ends with Zulma and Margaret arriving in Tobago.
Best part of story, including ending:
Though she is but a teenage girl, Margaret has morphed into a modern-day version of Harriet Tubman. In a roundabout fashion she accomplishes the unthinkable as she plays a huge role in getting Zulma back to the freedom of Tobago. In a sense she also frees their mothers as this situation causes the women to dare to step away from the confines of overbearing husbands. They dare to speak up for their daughters and it is the beginning of their liberation.
Best scene in story:
Nearing the end of the novel Margaret gets her period for the first time. She immediately tells her mother. Her mother reacts as though she has just been given a prized possession. The reason for her reaction is seen in the confrontation she has with Margaret's father soon after. She reveals that she does not want her daughter growing up the way she had with no-one to turn to and having to figure things out for herself. She explains that Margaret is an unusual child and if they continue to ignore her and dictate the way they have been doing they are going to lose her. She recalls the way she had to figure things out for herself when she had gotten her first period and she was grateful for the fact that Margaret had told her.
Opinion about the main character:
Margaret is determined to accomplish whatever she puts her mind to, even in the face of disappointment. She never stops dreaming and hoping. The novel's end is the result of her persistence.