Light Across the River is the second book in the “Across the River” series by Stephanie Reed. This stand-alone title is another gripping tale of slavery and the Underground Railroad based on the legacy of the Reverend John Rankin Family, a family of real conductors who lived above the Ohio River.
In this second saga, eleven-year-old Johnny Rankin wants to be part of the family business: smuggling slaves to freedom. But everybody in Ripley knows “if you want to hear the news, go ask Johnny.” Then, one evening, a slave woman risks her life and that of her baby by crossing the river while the ice is breaking up. Johnny’s father relents and awakens his son, allowing him to be privy to the woman’s story before the older boys move her further up the railroad.
It just so happens that this slave woman is named Eliza - the same Eliza who is believed to be featured in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (and yes, there is a connection). Eliza makes it all the way to Canada, but three years later she returns to the Rankin Farm with a Canadian sailor whom she has paid to go to Kentucky and find her daughter, Beulah, and five grandchildren. For three months, Johnny and his family hide Eliza in secrecy until the Canadian returns with good news. He has found Eliza’s daughter, who is now pregnant with her seventh child. With the Canadian’s help, Eliza sneaks back into slave territory to rescue her daughter before she gives birth.
Once on the Ohio side of the river, it is up to Johnny to slip Eliza and her brood back to freedom. With despicable slave catcher Laban Biggerman keeping a close eye on the Rankin Home and Beulah in the throes of labor, this is no easy task. Will Eliza and her family be forced back into slavery? Will the Rankin family be punished for their crime? It is in God’s hands.