Lisa Wingate brings to life stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold off.
Louisiana, 1875 In the tumultuous aftermath of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now-destitute plantation; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate free-born Creole half-sister; and Hannie, Lavinia’s former slave. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following dangerous roads rife with ruthless vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and eight siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage westward reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the seemingly limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.
Louisiana, 1987 For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt–until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, seems suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled oaks and run-down plantation homes lies the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
Sad thing when stories die for the lack of listening ears.
To be honest, after reading the synopsis for this one, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I loved Before We Were Yours so much that I fully trusted Wingate. Part coming of age, part adventure story, part crusade, this book doesn’t shy away from the shadowy bits of history we might want to sweep under the rug.
Like BWWY, this book is written in dual timelines: 1875 and 1987. Three young girls make for the most unlikely of traveling partners as the search for answers from Louisiana across the treacherous plains of Texas. The pampered white daughter of a prominent Louisiana plantation owner, his mixed-creole daughter with his mistress, and his former slave turned sharecropper look for information regarding his disappearance and their respective inheritances and share cropping contract.
Hannie and her family were stolen from their master and sold off a couple at a time until only Hannie remained by the time her master recovered her. With only three of her grandmother’s blue beads to remember them by, Hannie never stopped aching for their loss and she never stopped searching.
We die once when the last breath leaves our bodies. We die a second time when the last person speaks our name.’ The first death is beyond our control, but the second one we can strive to prevent.
The story is set against real-life letters from the Lost Friends column of the Southwestern Christian Advocate newspaper, and they are equally heart-wrenching and hopeful at the same time.
Over 100 years later, not much has changed and people on both sides are equally resistant to stirring the pot. But when outsider Benny moves to town and attempts to connect with her students in a meaningful way that gets them interested in their own education, the past bubbles to the surface, along with the best and worse of each of the inhabitants in the town.
I laughed, I cried, I sweated out cliff hanger chapter endings, and ultimately finished this book feeling ALL of the things. The audiobook had multiple readers too, which added to the richness of the audiobook experience, though the reader for Benny wasn’t my favorite if I’m being honest.
Still, this was another phenomenal story from an author who is quickly making it onto my shortlist of authors whose books I will buy without reading the synopsis. If you like historical fiction and enjoy reading books from perspectives different than you’ve known, this book is for you.
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