Sunflower Sisters, a review by Tanya

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Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls #3)
Martha Hall Kelly
Narrators Saskia Maarleveld, Shayna Small, Jenna Lamia, Cassandra Campbell

Approx 17 hours 50 min
Published Mar 29, 2021 by Penguin Random House Audio

Amazon | Goodreads

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About the Book:

Lilac Girls introduced readers to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who helped young girls released from Ravensbruck concentration camp. Now, in Sunflower Sisters, Kelly tells the story of her ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey, a Union nurse who joins the war effort during the Civil War, and how her calling leads her to cross paths with Jemma, a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army, and Ann-May Wilson, a southern plantation mistress whose husband enlists.

Georgeanne “Georgey” Woolsey isn’t meant for the world of lavish parties and demure attitudes of women of her stature. So when the war ignites the nation, Georgey follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women a bother on the battlefront. In proving them wrong, she and her sister Eliza venture from New York to Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg and witness the unparalleled horrors of slavery as they become involved in the war effort.

In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister, Patience, is enslaved on the plantation next door and both live in fear of LeBaron, an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma is sold by the cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union army comes through, she sees a chance to finally escape–but only by abandoning the family she loves.

Anne-May is left behind to run Peeler Planation when her husband joins the Union Army and her cherished brother enlists with the Confederates. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies, finally exposing herself to the fate she deserves.

Inspired by true accounts, Sunflower Sisters provides a vivid, detailed look at the Civil War experience, from the barbaric and inhumane plantations, to a war-torn New York City to the horrors of the battlefield. It’s a sweeping story of women caught in a country on the brink of collapse, in a society grappling with nationalism and unthinkable racial cruelty, a story still so relevant today.

My Review: 

Sunflower Sisters can be read as a stand-alone book. I haven’t read the first 2 books in the series yet and had no issues understanding character relationships.

The story is told from the perspective of Georgey -the Bostonian sister of 7 who becomes a Union Nurse in the Civil War, Jemma- the young slave who experiences so many traumatic events but still remains strong as a rock and Anne-May- the heartless, cruel plantation owner who wreaks havoc on Jemma and her family.

It’s always great to have a villain to hate in a book, it’s just so sad to know that these characters are based on real-life despicable humans and that so many suffered at their hands for so long.

The book deals with slavery told from all 3 points of view. It doesn’t shy away from atrocities but also doesn’t dramatize them in the story. It was interesting for me to read the book and feel emotions but not be stirred deeply overall (no tears – and I cry at everything), as I had assumed I would be.

Of course, my favorite story was Jemma and how she fights her way through the every-day horrors of slave life. The bravery that she and her family display and the sadness that inevitably will envelope you as the reader.

It’s a good read and that audiobook narrators did a fantastic job!

The Author’s note at the end describes her research methods and which parts of the story were based more on fact vs more on fiction. That was very interesting and I appreciated her sharing that with the reader.

Thank you to #NetGalley for providing this book. I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy and all views expressed are only my honest opinion.


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