Recap: When young associate lawyer Lina Sparrow is assigned to a massive class-action case involving slavery, she at first, has no idea where to begin. The client her firm is representing is seeking reparations for the descendants of American slaves — an historic case that, if won, would bring in millions for hundreds, if not thousands of slave descendants. It’s a tough case, but Lina is determined to win, and so begins the research. She must find the perfect lead witness, a slave descendant with a rich backstory that will tug at the jury’s heartstrings.
That’s when she decides to find a living descendant of Josephine Bell, a Civil War era slave from Lynnhurst, VA. Josephine’s owner, Luanna Bell, was an amazing artist, but according to legend, Josephine was the one secretly finishing Missus Bell’s paintings and sketches. A slave with an amazing talent, who never received recognition would make Josephine Bell’s descendants perfect for Lina’s case.
As readers, we delve into the stories of both extraordinary women, both on a mission — one, for the biggest success of her career, the other, for a chance at freedom. As their stories unfold, we learn more about their individual backstories and how their families have affected who they’ve become.
Analysis: Historical fiction mixed with modern-day storytelling, The House Girl switches back and forth between Josephine chapters set in Virginia in the 1850’s and Lina chapters set in New York City in 2004. Chapters devoted to only one person allows the reader to get a deeper reading of each woman. We learn about Lina’s mother who was killed when she was only four years old, and the broken, but still somewhat close relationship she has with her artist father, Oscar. We’re also given insight into the mentoring relationship Josephine was lucky enough to have with Missus Luanne Bell. Not to mention, understanding of her desire to escape slavery in the North.
The House Girl tells a truly beautiful story of two completely unrelated characters from different worlds and different time periods connecting in an unexpected way. The way author Tara Conklin is able to balance between fiction and historical fiction is impressive and keeps the book moving, as the reader desperately wants to learn how these two women end up.
At times, there are so many subplots, some seem to get lost in the shuffle. Not to mention, the ending feels a bit rushed and maybe even anticlimactic. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point isn’t to get the ending we’re expecting, but o understand that when Josephine gets her happy ending in a not-so-happy way, Lina realizes the happy ending we want for her, isn’t really the one she wants.
MVP: Lina. An incredibly focused, driven woman, she’s the only who seeks out Josephine and works to bridge their worlds together. Although it’s not appreciated, she does it, and finds her own happiness along the way.