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February 12, 2024

Two Different Books to Read for Black History Month

by Donna Huber

The typical books you probably think of to read for Black History Month are nonfiction books about history or social justice or biographies and memoirs. Yet, there is value in reading fiction as well. I recently read two novels that would perfect if you are looking for something a little different to read for Black History Month.

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The Blueprint by Rae Giana Rashad

book cover of dystopian novel The Blueprint by Rae Giana Rashad
February 2024; Harper; 978-0063330092
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); dystopian

When I accepted this book for review, I was thinking that it might be a good book to suggest to my post-apocalyptic book club as it was described as being in the vein of Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler, both who are favorites of the club members. 

I wasn't really thinking about it for Black History Month as it is set in the future. But the more I read it, the more I thought it would be a great read for those who are interested in social issues but wasn't really wanting to read non-fiction.

I will be recommending this to my book club as it has so much that would make a terrific discussion.

In several ways it is like a black version of The Handmaid's Tail, but there enough originality in the world Rashad created to really stand on its own. The themes of oppression and male dominance are told through the lens of black women.

Intertwined with the near future story of a black woman, Solenne, who lives in a country that has technologically advanced but socially has gone back in time is the story of a slave woman in the 1800s - the ancestor of the main character.  

Solenne finds herself coming-of-age where black woman are at the bottom of society. Following a second Civil War, the United States has collapsed and recreated under the Order - a society where white men rule. In this society young girls are assigned at the age of 15 to a white man - most (maybe all) become the man's concubine. At some point, the girls are to be returned to their community where they are assigned a black husband. This part of the world building is a bit fuzzy as we don't actually see this playing out. Solenne is first assigned to a writer at the capital - he's a gay biographer. He never wanted to own someone, but Solenne was a "gift" as his mentor (who she was originally assigned to) died. James opens Solenne's eyes to what freedom and equality could be like, but she has got the eye of the most powerful man in Texas  - the Official. While never physically abusive he is emotionally manipulative.

 There are parallels between Solenne's life in the near future and Henriette's life in the 1800s. Solenne finds strength in the story of Henriette.

Again, it is different kind of read, but it is definitely worth the read.

Buy The Blueprint at Amazon

The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

book cover of historical fiction novel The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
February 2024; One World; 978-0593729397
audio, ebook, print (304 pages); historical fiction

This was another book that was a little outside what I read, but probably a little more traditional for Black History Month.

I don't read much set before the 20th century and typically nothing set in the Civil War era. But as this book is about a slave girl who joins the spy ring known as the American Daughters, I thought it could be interesting and shed light on something I didn't know about history.

A diary by the slave girl Ady is found and her life story is published. What we are reading is that story. 

Ady is about seven when she and her mother are sold to a plantation owner who keeps a house in the city as well. This town house is where they are based. While there are plenty of reminders that they are enslaved, it did they enjoyed some freedoms being the city that they wouldn't have on a plantation. 

The author likes to use the term "slave labor camp also known as a plantation". While being an awkwardly long term, I questioned whether it was an insertion of today's views on the past. Did anyone in the 1800s call plantations slave labor camps? While it is true, it didn't feel historically accurate and every time I read it I was taken out of the story. It probably wouldn't have been a problem if they author had used is more sparingly. And I think it is one of the reasons I enjoyed the later part of the novel - it wasn't used every time a plantation was mentioned. I think those reading a book like this would understand that plantations were slave labor camps and it just felt very heavy handed to be used so often in the beginning.

My only other complaint was the ending. I don't think the chapter set in the future at a conference discussing the book was necessary. I enjoyed Ady's coming-of-age story and wish the book had ended with her story. 

I had some trouble getting into the novel (partly because of the fore mentioned term), but by the time Ady meets Lenore, I'm sucked into the story. 

I call this a coming-of-age story because it really is more about Ady. The American Daughters play a small part in the overall story. It was not a Civil War-era spy novel. There are so few details about the American Daughters I'm not sure if they were a real group or just something Rufin made up. I have no doubt that slaves played a part in spying on the Confederacy. So I just wonder if the American Daughters was a real group or a stand-in for what truly existed.

I did learn a little about New Orleans history. I didn't realize that there was a thriving free black economy.

The American Daughters is an interesting and entertaining novel. It would make a great book for a book club discussion.

Buy The American Daughters at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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