A review by leahsbooks
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

dark sad slow-paced
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


I've really been trying to broaden my horizons with regard to what type of books I read. I knew it had won a Pulitzer Prize along with some other awards, and wanted to see what all the buzz was about. While I didn't really know what to expect, I did realize that this story wasn't going to be sunshine and rainbows.

The story is historical fiction with some elements of magical realism in that it reimagines the Underground Railroad as an actual subterranean railroad that was manned by a network of operators. The author has clearly done an immense amount of research to do justice to this story and this period of history. This isn't a story for the faint of heart, though. The experiences of slaves, and the punishments meted out to them are recounted in excruciating detail. 

However, there were some things that made it difficult for me to really get fully invested in this story beyond the shock and horror associated with the fact that this was an actual period in history. First of all, Cora was the only character that we got to know at any level, and it felt like even she was kept at a distance. I got to learn about her story, and a little about what makes her tick, but I never really felt like I was able to connect with her. The other characters just kind of felt like filler - they were dropped into the story when they were needed to move the story along, but we never learned much about them. Instead of having the chapters follow a logical, coherent path, they zigzag about. Interspersed between the chapters that tell the actual story are other chapters that give short snippets about what happens with other characters. But they are told out of sequence and jump back and forth in time, and they don't tell the whole story.

This story really had the potential to be amazing, but ultimately, it just didn't hit the mark for me. I couldn't connect with the story or the characters, and for me, that's what truly takes a story from okay to great. 

Expand filter menu Content Warnings