Title: Underground Airlines
Author: Ben H. Winters
Genre: alternate history/fiction
Length: 336 pages
Where Bethany’s Copy Came From: IndyPL Fiction selector Emily, who picked up the ARC at Book Expo.
Plot Basics: Victor is a talented, young black man, working undercover for the US Marshals. His assignment: help locate runaway slaves so they can be returned to the Hard Four, the states who still have slavery because the Civil War never happened. Victor knows this case is off and as he works it, he tries to repress his own childhood memories working in the Hard Four. But when this case leads him to secrets the government would rather suppress, Victor has to decide how much bad work he’s willing to do in exchange for personal freedom.
Banter Points: Underground Airlines has popped up on a several “best books to read this summer” kinds of lists and with good reason. Winters has created a masterful alternate reality that speaks to the racism alive in our country without being preachy and while offering a startling look at where we could have been.
Much like Winters’ hailed “Last Policeman” trilogy, Underground Airlines centers on a man doing his job when the rest of the world rather hates him for doing it. And he’s good at it. But Victor is forced to look at the cost of his actions for himself and the world at large. While the stakes are higher for Victor, he is a reminder of the humanity and choices we all have and what we are willing to ignore for our own comfort.
Bummer Points: I actually wanted more world building. Winters did a great job of not overwhelming the reader with what happened or didn’t from the history we know, but as a history geek, I wanted more details. Didn’t detract from the story overall though. I do think Winters may have pulled his punches just a bit where he could have done more to draw parallel with modern society and the racism that is around us.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Listen to all the book lists who say this is one of summer 2016’s hottest reads and join in the fun.