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.
Title: The Mapmaker’s Children
Author: Sarah McCoy
Genre: Literature & Fiction | Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Broadway Books
Published: February 9, 2016
FTC Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review. Opinions expressed are mine.
Her father had proven to them all: when a beating heart stopped, there was no black or white, only blood-red. The flesh was equal. It was the character of the man that made him better or worse. ~~ Sarah Brown, p. 91 (The Mapmaker’s Daughter)
The book alternates between the stories of two women: Sarah Brown, second to youngest child of abolitionist John Brown, who used her artistic talents to help with the Underground Railroad; and Eden Anderson, married to Jack, both of whom are struggling with their inability to bring a child into the world.
A century and a half separates the women’s stories, but they have so much in common between their stories. The Brown family lived in New Charlestown, West Virginia, during the years just preceding and the first years of the Civil War, a time fraught with runaway slaves, folks trying to help them, and children left abandoned or orphaned. The Andersons have just purchased a home on the same road where the Browns lived.
Both women are barren, or at least Eden seems to be so. Both always wanted children, and they wanted more than one. To have been left bereft of this beautiful gift is beyond their comprehension and understanding. Their journeys to motherhood diverge a bit here: Eden’s husband seems not to now what to make of her feelings with each miscarriage, often aloof and often too busy to talk. On the other side of the page, Sarah finds a young man for whom she has strong feelings and he for her, but she cannot marry him knowing he wants a large family and she can’t give it to him.
As these stories alternate throughout the book, a strong history lesson is provided by McCoy about the Harper’s Ferry uprising and the loss of John Brown. I don’t know about you but my history classes more or less brushed over this incident, and I was raised in the South. McCoy’s research is quite accurate and research like hers is time-consuming. I appreciate her eye for detail and organization of the facts.
Through the Andersons, McCoy shows us the beauties of small town America, the love and friendships easily formed and then relied upon. I felt myself longing for a place like New Charlestown to live.
McCoy’s characters are well-developed and her descriptive language is beautifully written. Nothing is left to guess-work on the part of her readers.
Anyone who loves historical fiction, Civil War history, the beauty of lesser historical figures brought to light, and the imagery and sounds of a small town in today’s America will enjoy every page turn of The Mapmaker’s Children. There is so much more I would love to share with you, but then I would have spoiled it for you!
SARAH McCOY is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of the 2012 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction nominee The Baker’s Daughter as well as The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico and the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas.
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