Review: The Mapmaker’s Children

May 6, 2015 book review, dual story lines, historical fiction, Sarah McCoy 4

The Mapmaker's Children
  • Written by:  Sarah McCoy
  • Published by: Crown Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, May 5, 2015
  • Length:  320 pages
  • Source: won a copy from Goodreads.

Summary:  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.
Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

My Thoughts:  Historical fiction is best for me when there are true historical figures used in the telling.  In Sarah McCoy’s new book she brings to life and light Sarah Brown, whose father was a well known abolitionist who was hung for his acts of treason.  I’d known little about his daughter, and this learning and enlightening is what makes historical fiction richer and deeper for me.  Ms. McCoy was able to weave fact and fiction and bring Sarah Brown and the people of her time to life, their struggles and daily routines.  These were hard lives, fighting slavery, supporting the Underground Rail Road, and going between her family in the North and her friends in Virginia.

In contrast to the historical story, we meet Eden.  She now lives in West Virginia, a new small town life she’s not certain she likes.  She’s angry at everyone as she’s not able to conceive and bear a child.  Infertility is a bitter pill, attacking a marriage and a person’s happiness.  In a twist her husband brings home a dog, and when she yells at him he finds a neighbor girl to feed and walk the dog.  The entrance of Cleo in her life was a breath of fresh air.  Eden hadn’t realized how closed up she’d been.  Cleo talked incessantly and gave Eden all the town gossip and history.  Together they began solving a mystery, one that they found inside Eden’s house. Cleo and little dog, Cricket, gave new live and meaning into Eden’s world.  Eden widens her circle, and also softens a bit on the man she’s always loved.

Two women who were more alike than they would have thought are nurtured and given voices in The Mapmaker’s Children.  Both Sarah and Eden share a need to give love and nurture, and are given this opportunity in unique ways.  They are both strong and independent in their own right.

Sarah McCoy is a storyteller, she has an idea and she plans and plots and marinates over her ideas until they are ripe and tender and ready to be written and rewritten and at last shared with her readers.  This book was a pleasure to read, and I’m already telling friends and family to pick it up, it’s so beautiful.

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