Tuesday, January 1, 2019

YA Book Review: Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden

Inventing Victoria
Author: Tonya Bolden
Publication: Bloomsbury YA (January 8, 2019)

Description: In a searing historical novel, Tonya Bolden illuminates post-Reconstruction America in an intimate portrait of a determined young woman who dares to seize the opportunity of a lifetime.

As a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, Essie's dreams are very much at odds with her reality. Ashamed of her beginnings, but unwilling to accept the path currently available to her, Essie is trapped between the life she has and the life she wants.

Until she meets a lady named Dorcas Vashon, the richest and most cultured black woman she's ever encountered. When Dorcas makes Essie an offer she can't refuse, she becomes Victoria. Transformed by a fine wardrobe, a classic education, and the rules of etiquette, Victoria is soon welcomed in the upper echelons of black society in Washington, D. C. But when the life she desires is finally within her grasp, Victoria must decide how much of herself she is truly willing to surrender.

My Thoughts: This historical fiction story tells about Essie, a young black girl in Savannah, in the 1870s and 1880s. Essie's mother is a prostitute who came to Savannah on Sherman's March to the Sea. The first few chapters tell about Essie's childhood being hidden in closets when her "uncles" came to call.

Essie was befriended by a cleaning woman who convinced her mother to send her to school. While she learned to read, she eventually left because of bullying by those who looked down on her because of her mother's profession. She relied on the cleaning woman - Ma Clara - for emotional support and to learn to take care of herself. She depended on books she found at a second hand store to continue her education.

When she was fourteen, she found a job at a boarding house and fell out with her mother. She was given the opportunity by a visitor to the boarding house to change her life. Dorcas Vashon offered to give her a new life if she was willing to leave her past behind. Because she wanted to better herself and find a purpose in life, she took the offer. Part of her new life involved a new name and, at sixteen, she became Victoria.

The story details all the things she had to learn and the books she read while learning to become a member of Washington, D.C.'s elite black society. She really did change her life as she learned those things. The lists of the books she read was daunting. She needed to learn how to fit into a society the paid attention to art, fashion, and etiquette. She got so involved that she almost lost her original purpose of making things better for her people.

It was realistic, but disappointing, that she needed to find a husband to realize her dreams. It was also difficult to know that this was the period before the rise of the Jim Crow laws when the small gains earned by blacks after the Civil War were going to be wiped out. I would be curious for the author to write more about Essie's (Victoria's) life.

Favorite Quote:
Three days later Essie stood in Strangers' Ground with Binah, Ma Clara, Gravedigger Bogins, Gravedigger Scriven, and Reverend Zephaniah McElroy.

And with the past snatching her back.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from the publisher. You can buy your copy here.

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