A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia, Published by Quill Tree Books, 9780062367297, 2021

Format: Hardcover, 460 pages

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre:  Historical Fiction

What did you like about the book? Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided that she will sit for a portrait; surviving over six decades of hardships, and with the will of a petulant child, she is determined to get her way.  Set on a grand Louisiana sugar plantation in 1860, Garcia weaves this tale of loyalty, pride, and duty into a masterful work that will keep readers turning pages.  Thisbe, Sylvie’s personal slave, must endure the degradation of being at her master’s beck and call and being invisible.  While Lily, the cook, suffers the interminable heat of the cook house living with the pain of her missing son.  Sylvie’s grandson Byron, who prefers the company of men, must marry a rich bride and produce an heir.  His father, Lucien, a misogynistic tyrant, works to save the farm, with its mounting debt and the families’ fortune squandered, an insurmountable task.  Each character in this work comes alive as the author entwines their fates with societal norms.  The antebellum lifestyle of the family illustrates the indifference of slave-owners to the plight of the workers they possess.  Family relationships are brought into focus, how many of the slaves were related to their white owners due to the raping of Negro servants, yet treated more like property than humans.  Readers will be hard pressed to put this title down once started.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Not a negative, however some scenes in this book are graphic.  There are some vivid sexual situations.

To whom would you recommend this book? Readers in grades 11 to adult who enjoy Historic fiction and books such as Gone With the Wind, would enjoy this title.

Who should buy this book? Social Studies teachers as well as high school librarians or public librarians in need of antebellum fiction will find this a very useful purchase.  

Where would you shelve it?  Historical Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  I feel that this title would reside at the top of a “to read” pile.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Elena Schuck, Nathaniel H. Wixon Intermediate School, Dennis, Massachusetts

Date of review: June 25, 2021

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