Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies–and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer’s shortcomings.
Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters–with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline–introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . .
I really didn’t know what to expect coming in to this story. I’m a sucker for a good historical fiction and I admit I had some reservations about the author telling the story from freed woman’s perspective. She surprised me with how well it was written. The feelings and things that Effie experienced were valid and also relatable. She dealt with prejudices because of the color of her skin from whites and because she was a “northern” black woman she also deals with prejudices from the black community. She struggled with trying to find where she fit in while also learning how to deal with feelings for one of the first times in her life. Orphaned as a slave, and then later being betrayed by the man who took her in. At almost every step she feels like she doesn’t belong.
Effie has been on her own so long that she doesn’t really know how to make friends or fall in love. She also has trouble with learning about her employer’s true feelings about civil rights. Effie also must learn how to build healthy friendships and relationships. She finds a friend in a person she least expected and she also experiences heartbreak for the first time. All issues that women deal with in the present. Effie comes face to face with her past in such a way that tests her emotionally and mentally.
While Effie has come to the south to find out where it is that she came from and to find out if she has any family left, she also learns how to be true to herself and accept love and friendship.
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