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Call Number
TEEN Bolden, T.

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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.

Author Notes

Tonya Bolden is the author of ten books, including "Strong Men Keep Coming", "The Family Heirloom Cookbook", & "33 Things Every Girl Should Know". She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-Fourteen-year-old Essie Mirth is ashamed of her prostitute mother, Praline, and the house of repute on Minis Street in 1880s Savannah (Forest City). She has a protector in storytelling caretaker Ma Clara. Essie earns a housekeeping position at Abby Bowfield's boardinghouse, where she makes her only friend, Binah, and meets a mysterious boarder named Dorcas Vashon. She is taken under Dorcas's wing, leaves her humble beginnings behind, and reinvents herself in Baltimore as Victoria Vashon, the niece of Dorcas. She receives strict education and etiquette training from Agnes Hardwick. The protagonist is soon welcomed by the black middle class and black aristocracy in Washington, DC. The teen struggles with her newfound socialite status. She is disturbed by the obnoxious, class-conscious and color-struck attitudes of the other society ladies. Victoria is courted by insurance entrepreneur Wyatt Riddle. She is faced with a blast from the past whose presence threatens her new life. Bolden makes this YA novel promising and enjoyable with a combined weaving of history and fiction. It is poetic, breathtaking, descriptive and fast-paced. Fans of Bolden's Crossing Ebenezer Creek will recognize Praline, but Victoria's story stands alone. Educators and history buffs might appreciate how some black historical figures are incorporated into the narrative. VERDICT An excellent choice for YA historical fiction shelves.-Donald Peebles, Brooklyn Public Library © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

This captivating historical novel, set in rapidly changing post-Civil War Savannah, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., traces a young African-American woman's transformation as she moves from service into high society. With evocative flashbacks and richly layered narrative, Bolden deftly sketches Essie's early years in a brothel, where she is neglected by her prostitute mother in favor of "uncles" and laudanum, and she aches "to be somebody else's child." Essie's "first rescue, first refuge" comes at 14, when sympathetic house cleaner Ma Clara helps her find a service job in a boarding house. Tension mounts when a stratospheric opportunity arises: the benevolent Dorcas Vashon, an elegant African-American patron who seeks out "young women of promise," offers to make 16-year-old Essie her companion, at which point Essie renames herself Victoria. Bolden (Crossing Ebenezer Creek) offers a compelling, complex look at the African-American social elite as Victoria receives a rigorous education in how to be a lady after launching into D.C. society amid such luminaries as Frederick Douglass. Though romance beckons, the true star here is Victoria herself. Ages 13-up. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Set during the post-Reconstruction era, this novel offers an intriguing view of nineteenth-century African American upper-echelon society. Fourteen-year-old Essie longs to escape her miserable life in Savannah, Georgia, where her mother earns her living as a prostitute. Essie finds refuge in the company of an older woman, Ma Clara, who takes a maternal interest in the girl and encourages her aspirations. After leaving home, Essie meets the wealthy Miss Dorcas Vashon, who offers to turn her into a lady; to help her rise in life. Under Miss Vashons draconian tutelage in etiquette, deportment, and the rules of polite society, Essie is transformed into a young socialiteone newly arrived in Washington, DC, with a different name and invented background. Reflecting on her past, Essie, now Victoria, has an epiphany that helps her understand the tragic complexities of her mothers life (In slavery her whitefolks abused her every which way, left her broken in mind) and come to terms with her conflicted feelings. Bolden captures the period with meticulous detail. Appearances by prominent African American luminaries of the era (including abolitionist Frederick Douglass, activist Mollie Church Terrell, and educator Booker T. Washington), all seamlessly woven into the narrative, extend the authenticity of this engrossing coming-of-age story. An authors note identifies Essies mother, Praline, as a character in Boldens Crossing Ebenezer Creek (rev. 3/17). pauletta brown bracy January/February 2019 p 86(c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

In 1880s Savannah, an African-American girl seizes the opportunity to enter a different life.Essie has many questions about the life she's lived with her mother, her "aunties," and the white men who visit, feeling closer to their cleaner, Ma Clarabut tough as life is, she knows it's better than the times of slavery. It is Ma Clara who urges Essie's Mamma to send her to school. When she leaves home for a housekeeping job, her mother furiously accuses Essie of snobbery, revealing that Essie's father was a white Union soldier. At the boardinghouse, Essie does her tasks and delights in reading books from the parlor. A guest, Dorcas Vashon, takes an interest in Essie, offering her the chance to start a new life in Baltimore. The lessons that will turn Victoria, Essie's new chosen name, into a member of the emerging African-American elite are demanding. She meets noteworthy figures such as Frederick Douglass, falls in love, and wonders if she can marry without revealing her past. This unique work seamlessly weaves aspects of black history into the detailed narrative. Essie's desire for a life she can be proud of is palpable; as Victoria, she emerges as a fully realized character, a product of all her experiences. The depiction of Washington, D.C.'s African-American elite is rich and complex, never shying away from negatives such as colorism and social climbing.A compelling and significant novel. (Historical fiction. 13-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

In her follow-up to Crossing Ebenezer Creek (2017), Bolden explores what happened to those who survived that journey, through the character of Essie, a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, Georgia. When presented with the chance to start over, Essie becomes Victoria and moves to Baltimore to learn how to become a society lady, eventually ending up living the good life in Washington, D.C. Though she vows to say goodbye to her past, Victoria finds it's easier said than done. The novel's short introductory chapters give background to her story and invite readers into Victoria's life, but their nonlinear arrangement can be hard to follow. Only after several flashbacks and flash-forwards does the book finally settle in real-time narration. The story, as described in Bolden's author's note, seeks to illuminate an often-neglected aspect of black history: the black middle class and black aristocracy of the past. The rich descriptions of people and life in early America will fascinate readers as the book introduces them to this widely overlooked population in history.--Florence Simmons Copyright 2018 Booklist