I enjoyed this sweeping Civil War-era novel that follows the story of three female characters, whose paths become intertwined. I listened to this book, and each of these character’s parts were read by different narrators, which also added to my enjoyment of it.
One thread follows the (real) lives of the Woolsey women, who were northern abolitionists, trained as nurses. They were exceptionally progressive for their time, and left hundreds of letters and several books behind, from which this source material was garnered. In some cases these actual letters were included in the novel. Georgy Woolsey was my favorite character; she had the audacity to insert herself into a man’s world, where she was needed but not welcomed. It was intriguing to read of the blatant discrimination against female nurses, especially when those descriptions were pulled from factual accounts from the time.
There also is the story of Jemma, who is enslaved with her family on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, yearning for escape. And lastly, we have the vile plantation owner Anne-Mae Watson, who is brutal, unethical, dishonest, and traitorous. The reader is glad for her well deserved comeuppance at the end.
This is the third of this author’s three “flower” novels. You can read my review of Lilac Girls here, which was the first in the series, and takes place during horrific occurrences during WWII in Europe. Lots of people loved the Lilac Girls, but Sunflower Sisters, is my favorite of the three, and is less hard to read. No worries if you haven’t read the other two, Sunflower Sisters can easily be read as a standalone novel.
The name Sunflower Sisters is based on the fact that sunflowers were used as a sign of danger on the underground railroad. They would be placed on fences or tied to trees near unsafe places so the escaped slaves would know to avoid those areas.
While this novel is 528 pages long, it keeps moving, and does not lag. It was a very timely compliment to having just read this biography of Frederick Douglas, which takes place in the same time period.
In this novel there is a satisfying mix of slight suspense, a little bit of intrigue, and illuminating information about the Civil War. I give it five stars, and recommend it for some solid summer reading.