Thank you Jess of Beauty in Humble Places for this book review.
Title: The Book of Lost Friends
Author: Lisa Wingate
Genre: Historical fiction, women’s fiction
Plot: This book is told in parallel narratives: one takes place in Louisiana in 1875 in the years of reconstruction, the other takes place in Louisiana in 1987.
Louisiana, 1875: In the upheaval of Reconstruction, three women set off on a journey. They begin as unwilling and untrusting companions: Hannie, a freed slave; Lavinia, the heir to a plantation that has seen better days; and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s Creole half sister. The group heads for Texas, each carrying their own secrets and troubles. Lavinia and Juneau Jane are hoping for information on their stolen inheritance and freedom from their desperate financial situation, but Hannie is hoping that the pilgrimage will lead her to information on the family she was torn from. Along the way, they encounter other freed slaves hoping for information on the families they thought they had lost forever. The three women begin keeping a list of names and information in an effort to help reunite people with their loved ones.
Louisiana, 1987: First-year teacher Benedetta Silva hopes that by taking a subsidized job at a poor rural school she will finally be free of her hefty student debt. When she finds herself in a tiny Mississippi River town that is suspicious of new ideas and new people, she begins to have second thoughts. On top of that, Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students and struggles to connect with them in a meaningful way. When Benny discovers the story of the three girls from 1875, she finds a way to not only engage her students, but her entire new community.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Opinion: I had previously read Lisa Wingate’s book Before We Were Yours and absolutely loved it, so I was eager to read this one. Now, I do not usually enjoy books told from multiple storylines. I either find myself more engaged with one story line than the other, or the story lines and characters start to get mixed up in my head and I lose interest entirely. That was not at all the case with this book. I found the writing itself to be fluid and enjoyable, and the characters to be relatable even if they weren’t always likeable. I think what I enjoyed the most was knowing that this book was based loosely on real events – there were real “books of lost friends” during Reconstruction, individuals placing ads looking for the families and friends they had been separated from. Knowing that made reading this story even more poignant. I couldn’t help but put myself in the characters’ place as they dealt with various difficulties on their journey. I also thoroughly enjoyed the way Wingate wove the two storylines together. I was deeply appreciative of the fact that the author tied up all the loose ends, and not in a way that felt trite or forced. The characters felt alive to me, not stagnant as they sometimes do, and the obstacles they faced were used as opportunities for character growth and development. What I really loved was that each of the women changed dramatically from the time they were introduced, each growing in a way that felt appropriate for both the time period and who they were as people. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, with a focus on women’s historical fiction.