Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls, #3)
by Martha Hall Kelly
Published March 30, 2021
by Ballantine Books
Rating: 3 Stars ⭐⭐⭐
Genre: Historical Fiction
From the Publisher:
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.
Sunflower Sisters gives us the story of the Civil War as seen by three distinct narrators: Georgeanna (Georgey) Woolsey, one of seven sisters in a wealthy New York family of abolitionists; Jemma, a slave on a tobacco plantation in Maryland; and Anne-May, the plantation owner. The author introduces a lot of characters quickly, which was pretty confusing (there are, after all, seven Woolsey sisters!), but eventually I figured out who was who. To be honest, I didn’t learn much new about the Civil War era, as I’ve read several books, watched the PBS series, “Mercy Street”, and toured a number of Civil War battlefields including Gettysburg, but for someone who doesn’t have that background, this book will be eye-opening. At over 500 pages, this book is long and could easily have been edited to be a more manageable length.
Although technically part of a series, this is a standalone novel, only connected by genealogy to the other two books.
I really enjoyed the interesting historical notes at the end.
Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the opportunity to read an advance readers copy of this book. All opinions are my own.