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Friday, April 11, 2014

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Book Review: The House Girl

Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run. 
That is the first line of the book. I was in for the long haul immediately. 

The House Girl by Tara Conklin is half historical fiction and half modern family drama. The two genres flow together almost seamlessly. And despite a few imperfections, it is a moving tale of two women whose separate stories help each other more than either of them could have ever known.

The book first starts with Josephine, a slave on the Bell estate in Virginia. As stated in the opening line, her story is about running. The book spans the course of one day in her life and the events that occur after her decision to make a run for the underground railroad and the free north. Josephine, the house girl, has lived there all of her life taking care of her ailing mistress Lu Ann Bell. Lu Ann taught Josephine to draw and paint, and besides the items necessary for survival the only thing Josephine wishes to take with her when she runs are her favorite paintings. Her story is inter-cut with Lina's, a young, over-achieving lawyer whose law-firm has just assigned her a very difficult task. 

Some of the firm's clients are attempting to sue several corporations who profited off of slavery. The suit demands that the money earned by free slave labor be repaid and put into an account to fund museums, charities, and scholarships, all so that the men and women of the slave trade will not be forgotten. Lina is tasked with finding the perfect face to show the loss that slavery has caused millions. Her father, an artist, unknowingly gives her a push in the right direction when he mentions a controversial art show of the work of Lu Ann Bell whose most famous pieces are now believed to be, in fact, the work of her house slave, Josephine.

Lina must track down the truth about Josephine in order to bring justice. Josephine's story encourages Lina to step out of her own struggles, and Lina's story brings long-forgotten Josephine's to light.

It's a very inspiring piece of literature. It's also very refreshing to see a story about two strong female characters whose main conflict doesn't revolve around man trouble. Their stories are about them helping themselves out of their struggles.

That being said, I did enjoy Josephine's story more. I honestly think that had Conklin decided to write only Josephine's side, the book would have been better for it. Lina is a likable character and her journey is real, but Josephine's is more compelling. And I can also say, thanks to Goodreads and my fellow readers on there, that I am not the only one who feels this way. Many found the book a bit too difficult to get into because of Lina's story line. 

Her story is interesting though. Once I got into it, I found myself as excited as Lina when she began uncovering lost pieces of Josephine's story. But again, I've also just pointed out that Lina is most interesting when her story is revolving around Josephine's struggles instead of her own.

Overall it's a mixed bag. It's well written and has two strong main characters, yet one character outshines the other. It will be up to you if it bothers you or not. But if you are willing over-look it, you will, at the heart of it, find a tale of two strong women whose unique stories are forever bound.

Title: The House Girl

Author: Tara Conklin

Genre: Historical Fiction/Modern Fiction Drama

Recommendation: A shrugged, "Yes."

Best Reader Audience: Male and Female readers at YA reading level

Final Rating: Three out of Five mugs of hot chocolate 
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