Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
I honestly believe that many students today do not realize how easy in some ways they have it. When I was in school, we just had Cliffnotes. Today, there are Cliffnotes, Sparknotes, Monkeynotes, Charles River Editors Guides and so on. Worth Books (a Division of Open Road Media) offers “Smart Summaries” of various titles is the latest group to offer such books.
Like many other summery and analysis books, Worth Books makes it clear that this is a supplement to the book, in this case The Underground Railroad, and not a replacement for actually reading the book. In terms of summery, this is well done, functioning more as a summery as opposed to spoiler filled plot synopsis. There is a summery section as well as a major character section, and these two things work together.
The weakest part is the analysis section. It’s not bad, and in a general way, it is good. The strongest points are the context section, which notes the publication history and events in both the publishing world and “real” world. The sections using quotes from the novel and explaining references are good. The reference section, however, does leave out a bit in terms of historical events that Whitehead did draw are. The left-out thing that most disturbed was the total lack of mention of Octavia Butler. True, Butler’s Kindred can be classified as science fiction, but it is an important fictional book about slavery. To not even mention in the further reading section or a brief rundown of other slavery novels is an oversight. Additionally, there is a definite link between Butler and Whitehead. This does not lessen either work, but if an author is going to make a justified comparison to The Diary of Anne Frank, Butler should be mentioned as well.
It might be helpful as a starting point for discussions at a book club where conversation is hard to start.