"Even when the rainbow seems to pass right by me....I'm still finding Gold in the clouds....."

04 August 2013

2013 Book Review #28: The House Girl

I finished another gem of a book while on vacation this past week.

Reading is one of my favorite past-times and one of my favorite ways to totally relax. There is nothing like getting caught up in a good story and being able to really "know" the characters the author is inventing.  This book does just that:  you feel like the characters are people you want to know.


It is 2004 and a young, ambitious lawyer named Lina (pronounced Lee-nah) Sparrow is starting to work on a class-action lawsuit involving the history of slaves in the United States.  The lawsuit is seeking reparations for the descendants of those slaves.  Lina lives in New York City with her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow.  Her mother has been gone ever since Lina was a preschooler.  Lina has always been told that her mother died in a horrible car accident.

It is 1852 and Josephine is a 17 year old house slave for an antebellum Virginia tobacco farm that is failing.  She is actually the personal house slave for Mrs Lu Anne Bell. The name of the farm is Bell Creek.  Lu Anne is an aspiring artist.  

Lina discovers, through her father, that there is a controversy in the art world.  Some art historians are beginning to suspect that the paintings of Lu Anne Bell, known for humanizing the portraits of her slaves, actually were painted by her house girl, Josephine! Lina thinks it would be perfect if she could find a descendant of Josephine's for her lawsuit!! But can she??

Nothing is really known about Josephine after the death of Lu Anne Bell in 1852.  Lina begins a journey of finding out the truth and history of Josephine and people connected to her.  As she does so, she begins to question her own life and the story behind her mother's death...which has always been a mystery.

Does Josephine have a descendant and will Lina find him/her?

What really happened to Josephine and the other slave friends at Bell Creek??

Is Lu Ann Bell really the artist....or is the work Josephine's?

And will Lina find out the truth about her mother??

Read the novel to learn the answers!


I loved this book and I wanted the story to keep going.  It is not a long book but there is a lot packed in it.

The characters are well developed and I like how the author opened the story up with Josephine in 1852. The first chapter is about Josephine.  The next chapter is about Lina and this continues throughout most of the book. There are 3 parts to this novel. Part 1 is Josephine and Lina. Part 2 is Lina, Josephine, and Dorothea (another important character).  Part 3 is Lina, Caleb (another important person) and the final chapter is Josephine.  It is powerful.

One thing that I thought was most interesting, and that I really enjoyed because it was different, was that the author had Lina, in the midst of her research about Josephina, come across some letters from a southern girl who is connected to Josephina and Bell Creek.  The letters contain the story and some of the history of Josephine and Lu Ann from a few years before Lu Ann's death to 1852. It is most fascinating to read the plot line in letter form via library archives that Lina gets a hold of and researches.  I really liked that part and feel like without the letters, the story could get bogged down at that point.

Something I did NOT like about the story was that the author had a few pages of just slave names. It was tedious and I ended up just skimming through the names.  But....I believe her point was to show just how many slaves there were who had been harmed in some way. Lina ends up making a chart that the author actually includes in chart form, which again, I didn't like but it did add to the story and made it seem more connected with actual history.  I was a bit annoyed that the lawsuit was dropped but the author is correct in saying (and I am using my own words in summary here) that the USA will NEVER make reparations.  Slavery was a horrible thing. Horrible. And this story, although fiction, does get us to grasp the horror of it. But our government would really have to change drastically in order for there to be reparations for the descendants of slaves. And sadly, I don't see that happening any time soon.

There was a very interesting twist in the ending of the book in regards to Lina and her mother (and Oscar's role in all of it). I loved that this book was not predictable. It was also interesting to read the letters from Caleb and I don't want to divulge any information about those letters because that would spoil the book for you!

I urge you to add this to your reading list if you haven't already read it, especially if you like historical fiction or stories involving the Underground Railroad.  What courage those people faced!

This novel is the author's first full novel and I am hoping she writes more!

In my opinion, this book is appropriate for ages 14 and older.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I rate this a 10.


Susanne said...

I find stories of the underground railroad for the most part very interesting. The courage of those people astounds me.

Faith said...

Same here, Susanne!! Tis book was an excellent story. My heart went out to Josephine. Oh btw you are entered in my end of summer giveaway:)