The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.
Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.
Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.
This book started off slow for me, but once it began picking up, I was hooked. It is the perfect kind of historical fiction. It alternates between the past and the present with letters and newspaper articles sometimes in between chapters. The present day story is about Eden and Jack who recently moved to New Charlestown, West Virginia. They are unknowingly occupying the former house of the Hills, key players in the Underground Railroad. Eden is deeply depressed and withdrawn from Jack after years of trying to have a child.
The story in the past is of Sarah Brown, daughter of John Brown, the rest of the family, and their good friends, the Hills. Sarah is a very talented artist, and she assists in the Underground Railroad by drawing maps for runaway slaves.
I enjoyed both stories, but I was always anxious for more of Sarah’s story. I found the history fascinating, and the tortured romance between Sarah and Freddy Hill left me wanting more. Their letters were just so wonderful.
Both women are barren, and they’re struggling with finding purpose in life without children. Sarah invests herself in her art and the Underground Railroad. Eden makes friends with a neighbor girl and seeks comfort in her new puppy.
The writing in this book was almost literary fiction, so it took me a little longer to read than I would have hoped for a book that is only 300 pages. I really enjoyed the stories, especially once I got about 100 pages in. The details in the writing were amazing. Small things would carry forward between one time period to the next, which was unexpected and impressive. I need to check out more of McCoy’s work.
My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more history uncovered in the present, but I guess it was believable.
My Rating: 4 stars
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