This outstanding novel about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human.
A SITTING IN ST. JAMES
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins Children’s, May 2021
Ages 14 +
1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilberthas decided, in spite of her family’s indifference, to sit for a portrait—a testament to all the hardships she has overcome, and the glory that her life ought to have had. But there are other important stories to be told on the Guilbert plantation. Like that of Thisbe, the young enslaved woman who must stand silent by her mistress, but who observes everything. Or Byron, the heir to the plantation, whose desires cannot possibly fit with his family duty. Stories that span generations, from the big house to out in the fields, of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and a tangled lineage of descendants and dependents who have never forgotten who they are.
A complicated, ugly, yet empathetic portrayal of the period: This is not a whitewashed account of slavery; though never gratuitous, the narrative does not shy away from the horrors that occur on the Guilbertplantation. Yet every character is portrayed with empathy and humanization, in all their complications—both the enslaved and the slave owners. It’s a fine balance to strike, but Rita Williams-Garcia does it masterfully.
Rita Williams-Garcia’s Newbery Honor Book, One Crazy Summer, was a winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, a National Book Award finalist, the recipient of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and a New York Times bestseller. The two sequels, P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama, were both Coretta Scott King Author Award winners and ALA Notable Children’s Books. She is also the author of National Book Award finalist Clayton Byrd Goes Underground and six distinguished novels for young adults: Jumped, a National Book Award finalist; No Laughter Here, Every Time a Rainbow Dies (a Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Book), Fast Talk on a Slow Track (all ALA Best Books for Young Adults); Blue Tights; and Like Sisters on the Homefront, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Rita Williams-Garcia lives in Jamaica, New York.