by Sarah McCoy
Release Date: February 9th 2016
2016 Broadway Books (Hardcover published by Crown - May 5th 2015)
Paperback Edition; 336 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Historical
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours
3.5 / 5 Stars
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.
The Mapmaker's Children traces the story of John Brown's children after his death as they continue his fight for the abolitionist movement. While I am quite familiar with John Brown's story, I was definitely not familiar with the story of his wife and children after his death, so I found this to be quite interesting and fascinating. The story is an alternating narrative following Sarah's story as she struggles with the aftermath of her father's execution and Eden's modern story as the deals with the after-effects of yet another failure to conceive and the discovery of a porcelain head in the root cellar of her new house.
First of all, I enjoyed Sarah's story much more than I did Eden's. Learning about the sacrifices the Browns made after John's execution made me admire that family even more so than before; you certainly have to have a lot of fortitude to keep going when everything around you is destroyed. I thought Sarah to be an incredibly strong and brave woman, and admired her very much. She was very courageous, and even though she made mistakes and was very forthright for a woman of her times, she definitely grew and developed as a character; I liked her more for her mistakes and her misjudgements because she learned from them and became a better person. I thought the integration of the dolls into the Underground Railroad was pretty interesting; I had heard of perhaps quilts being used for such a purpose, but I suppose anything could have been used if you really thought about it. The concept was intriguing and its inclusion felt natural. I was a bit disappointed at the lack of story about the Underground Railroad though, as I was hoping for more surrounding that. While Sarah did her part to help, she didn't play a role in the actual movement of people for the Underground Railroad. The story was more about the Brown family coping after John's death, and the developing story line around Freddy and Sarah.
While I was a huge fan of Sarah's, I wasn't a fan of Eden's. I thought her quite irritating, especially in the beginning, and although I understood her personal issues and disappointments, I also never thought it was an excuse for poor behaviour. She did however, grow on me a bit as the novel progressed but those earlier chapters were difficult to forget and overall, I thought she was a bit spoiled and whiny. Cleo however, is a different matter altogether. I enjoyed her character quite a bit, even if I wondered why it took months for Eden and Cleo's grandfather to meet considering how much time she spent at Eden's house. I mean, she was barely eleven years old. Do you allow your eleven-year-old to enter a stranger's house and visit regularly without knowing them or at least meeting them? Strange. That being said, Cleo was precocious and downright fun, which kind of took the heat off Eden.
The Mapmaker's Children was a good book, but I think it really had the potential to be really great, especially if it focused more on Sarah and left out some of the stuff about Eden, which failed to interest me. Some people may disagree about that, but I honestly feel that there was enough material for a story about Sarah and her family which would have been quite interesting in its own right and would have allowed the author to explore some themes and concepts a bit more in depth, both emotionally and politically. It's quite obvious the author did an enormous amount of research on Sarah, and I found her story to be quite riveting, and the writing style drew me in right away. Cleo and the dog Cricket definitely had some fun and amusing parts that helped with Eden's story, but not enough to make me like her as a character. I definitely recommend this book for those who have an interest in John Brown and his legacy.
SARAH McCOY is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of the 2012 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction nominee The Baker's Daughter as well as The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico and the novella "The Branch of Hazel" in Grand Central. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas.