Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance. 

My take: 4 looks
Any book which makes me guffaw or cry is an automatic 4 looks, and this one brought me to tears. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The book is based on a wonderful premise: the perspective of the Underground RR from Sarah, the daughter of John Brown. As the book opens, Sarah is a girl who quickly inserts herself into the cause. There are a number of characters you will recognize, like mentions of Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau. Sarah is completely committed to abolish slavery, and dedicates her life to it.

Parallel to the story of the UGRR is the modern-day story of Eden, who has moved with her husband Jack from their busy lives in the city to a more rural area to alleviate stress. Eden struggles with infertility and it affects her entire existence. Her almost-eleven-year-old neighbor, Cloe, brings much needed grounding to the aggrieved Eden.

And that is all I will tell you of the story. Instead, let me explain why this book gets 4 looks from me. First of all, I am not a fan of the writing style of two parallel stories in time. I find that I am usually drawn to one story over the other, and start almost skimming the lesser storyline to get to the more compelling one. Not the case here. I was fully invested in both Sarah and Eden's stories. Each chapter went back and forth, and each provided a significant and satisfying part to that story before moving on to the next. The supporting characters were richly depicted and they added much to both stories.

The other item I found strong was the portrayal of Eden's struggle to have a baby. I have read a few reviews that Eden was a bit over-the-top; however, I can tell you from watching my best friend go through the same thing that this portrayal was so accurate that it almost hurt me to read, another sign of a great storyteller. Fertility does take over a woman's life if she is unable to conceive. To see new mothers and hear the laughter of children is heartbreaking each and every time, and I give kudos to McCoy for bringing this to her pages. I felt Eden's pain.

Finally, when the parallel stories started to weave together, it was delightful. There was a tendril here, a creeping vine there, and before I knew it, the two stories became a wonderfully covered arbor. The way the characters from the past colored and imbued the future brought smile after smile to my face as I read. I was entranced.

And I won't tell you why I cried, or which storyline elicited it. I will only tell you this: read this book!

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

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