The BUZZ: Last spring, everyone was talking about this book, and the reviews were mixed. I finally purchased it at Barnes & Noble one day because I was curious – and it meant I could get my parking validated. This is Grissom’s debut novel.
The GIST: A young, white orphan is raised by black slaves at a southern plantation in the late 18th century (note: long before the Civil War and not long after America became a country). She straddles both worlds all her life, which is, ultimately, unsustainable. No spoilers here, but the whole thing gets ugly.
The WRITING: Choppy. About halfway through the book I picked it up and had the strange experience of feeling it was now being written by a different author. Grissom may have changed her first person narrator’s voice to match her age – moving from young girl to young adult – which was a clever trick. I liked this second narrator’s voice better because I found the writing in the first half stilted and stuttering. I did not get the sense at any point that Grissom was inhabiting her characters; she seemed to be simply telling their stories. This feeling of being at a remove from the hearts and minds of characters is jarring for me, and finishing books like this becomes a chore (but I bought it, remember, free parking?). In addition, I found the main character completely maddening in her spinelessness and naivete and more than once considered throwing the book across the room.
BUY or BORROW?: Borrow. I incorrectly approached this book as a novel. That meant I expected things to essentially remain balanced – good/evil, love/hate, men/women, etc. This is historical fiction, though, and it’s a tough and tragic read. Here on view is the full pathology of what human beings can do to other human beings once they objectify them. Slavery is an abomination, and books about it are important. If the topic is of interest to you, approach this book as a socio-anthropologist and not a pleasure seeker.