Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 528 pages
First Published: 2021
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Ballantine through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
In a spin-off prequel of her bestseller, Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly tells the tale of Caroline’s ancestor, a story inspired by true accounts. During the Civil War, Georgeann Woolsey feels trapped in a life of luxury and boldly enlists to become a Union nurse. There she meets an enslaved girl who joined the Union Army to flee her cruel mistress. Together they must face the cruelties of war and the inhumanity of their day.
Although I was excited to read Matha Hall Kelly’s foray into the Civil War, I’ve been putting Sunflower Sisters off for months because reading a 500-page novel is a large time commitment, even for me. Unfortunately, during the first few chapters, I found myself bored to tears. Maybe the story gets more interesting later, but every character was so flat that I decided it wasn’t worth wading through 400+ pages to find out.
Georgeanne “Georgey” Woolsey isn’t meant for the world of lavish parties and demure attitudes of women of her stature. So when the war ignites the nation, Georgey follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women a bother on the battlefront. In proving them wrong, she and her sister Eliza venture from New York to Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg and witness the unparalleled horrors of slavery as they become involved in the war effort.
In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister, Patience, is enslaved on the plantation next door and both live in fear of LeBaron, an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma is sold by the cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union army comes through, she sees a chance to finally escape–but only by abandoning the family she loves.
Anne-May is left behind to run Peeler Planation when her husband joins the Union Army and her cherished brother enlists with the Confederates. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies, finally exposing herself to the fate she deserves.
Inspired by true accounts, Sunflower Sisters provides a vivid, detailed look at the Civil War experience, from the barbaric and inhumane plantations, to a war-torn New York City to the horrors of the battlefield. It’s a sweeping story of women caught in a country on the brink of collapse, in a society grappling with nationalism and unthinkable racial cruelty, a story still so relevant today.
About Martha Hall Kelly