Review of Inventing Victoria

Inventing Victoria
by Tonya Bolden
Middle School    Bloomsbury    264 pp.    g
1/19    978-1-68119-807-1    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-68119-808-8    $12.59

Set during the post-Reconstruction era, this novel offers an intriguing view of nineteenth-century African American upper-echelon society. Fourteen-year-old Essie longs to escape her miserable life in Savannah, Georgia, where her mother earns her living as a prostitute. Essie finds refuge in the company of an older woman, Ma Clara, who takes a maternal interest in the girl and encourages her aspirations. After leaving home, Essie meets the wealthy Miss Dorcas Vashon, who offers to turn her into a lady; to help her “rise in life.” Under Miss Vashon’s draconian tutelage in etiquette, deportment, and the rules of polite society, Essie is transformed into a young socialite — one newly arrived in Washington, DC, with a different name and invented background. Reflecting on her past, Essie, now Victoria, has an epiphany that helps her understand the tragic complexities of her mother’s life (“In slavery her whitefolks abused her every which way, left her broken in mind”) and come to terms with her conflicted feelings. Bolden captures the period with meticulous detail. Appearances by prominent African American luminaries of the era (including abolitionist Frederick Douglass, activist Mollie Church Terrell, and educator Booker T. Washington), all seamlessly woven into the narrative, extend the authenticity of this engrossing coming-of-age story. An author’s note identifies Essie’s mother, Praline, as a character in Bolden’s Crossing Ebenezer Creek (rev. 3/17).

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.

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