Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Review: Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge


Title: Libertie
Author: Kaitlyn Greenidge
Published: March 2021, Algonquin Books
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Source: Publisher

The critically acclaimed and Whiting Award–winning author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman returns with an unforgettable story about the meaning of freedom.
Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson was all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, had a vision for their future together: Libertie would go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother, who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark.

When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new novel resonates in our times and is perfect for readers of Brit Bennett, Min Jin Lee, and Yaa Gyasi.


My thoughts:  This is the first book I've read by Kaitlyn Greenidge and I know it will definitely not be the last. As soon as I heard about this one, I knew it was something I wanted to read and I was not disappointed.

This book totally captivated me, yet it is a slow-burn and one that while I wanted to rush to find out how it would end up, I also wanted to savior. It is a book inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors and her daughter, yet what I found incredibly interesting was how much attention the author paid to the mental health of her characters, especially as this is set during the Reconstruction era.

This is the third book that I have read where it talks about a black person being able to pass for a white, the second one just this week. It's not a concept I have ever given much thought to prior to reading these books, yet in this book, it is given much weight. Libertie's mom is very light-skinned, and so she is able to pass for white, which gives her certain freedoms that other blacks do not have. Libertie, on the other hand, is very dark-skinned. When Libertie is working with her mom at the hospital, many of the patients are very leery of having Libertie in the room.

I also appreciated the journey Libertie goes on in trying to find herself. She leaves her mother's house because she doesn't think her mother sees her for who she is, yet she finds that her marriage is not much different. I loved the mother-daughter relationship and how it is portrayed here. It is so realistic. Mothers only want what is best for their children, yet sometimes they project too much onto them without letting their children spread their wings. Libertie pushed too far away yet ultimately ended up where she needed to be.

This is such a beautifully written, thought-provoking read that has left me wanting to know more, which is what I love best about reading historical fiction. The author deftly draws you into the story, providing just the right amount of fact and fiction to tell her story and keep you entertained, while also shedding light on what happened during this time. This is a book I know I will be thinking about for quite some time and I definitely recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction. 


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