Monday, April 27, 2020

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

This novel caught my eye when I read the short description on the dust jacket--post Civil War? Yep. Sign me up. I continue to be fascinated with the Civil War and the years after, when quite frankly, the U.S. was still a mess. This novel was even better than I had hoped. 

Dual storylines tell the stories of 1875 Hannie Gossett, former slave and now sharecropper at Goswood Plantation, and 1987 Benny Silva, first year English teacher at an impoverished school in Augustine, Louisiana. The same  place where Hannie's story begins. Little does Benny know it, but she will be instrumental in uncovering Hannie's story, long forgotten under the burden of poverty that haunts Augustine. 

Hannie knows her former master had a mistress, and a daughter: Juneau Jane. His wife knows, too, and is a cruel woman, along with her daughter Lavinia. Juneau Jane secretly travels to the plantation one night to find paperwork that will prove her father has given her land of her own. Lavinia knows about it, and when Juneau Jane can't find the paperwork in the library, Lavinia convinces her to travel to New Orleans to seek out a businessman who will help them find the papers. Unfortunately, Lavinia is up to no good, and Hannie disguises herself in order to drive the wagon that takes the young ladies to New Orleans. Once there, they fall into really big trouble, and it's up to Hannie to save the girls and get them safely out of harm's way. Their journey will take them to Texas in search of William Gossett, who left on a business trip months before and has not been heard of since. Will they find him? Will they safely make it back home? 

In 1987, Benny's struggling to contain her class, and is in despair she'll ever be able to reach her students. On a walk one day, she discovers the grand Goswood plantation house, sitting empty. It's maintained, but no one lives there. She spies a very full library inside and decides those books will help her reach her students. Nathan Gossett is the owner, but wants nothing to do with the home. He's also Benny's landlord, renting her a small home on the edge of the town's cemetery. As Benny explores the library, she digs deeper into the town's past, and the tangled history of slavery, war, and freedom. She also learns more about Nathan's family and the tangled web that keeps him from living at Goswood. 

So how does Hannie's story mesh with Benny's? I can't tell you--you have to read the book! I still can't decide which story was more compelling. Hannie's desire to find her family-all sold off years before, is the main driver of her mission in life. It's also what connects the past to the present, in many surprising ways. 

It took me a bit to get into this novel, but when I finally did wow--such a good story! There's an author note at the end, letting you know how Lisa Wingate came to write about the book of lost friends. It's pretty interesting, and a must read. 

Rating: 5/6. I highly recommend this novel for book clubs, history buffs, and anyone who loves a read packed with drama, plenty of interesting characters, and the enduring love of family. Hannie is one amazing character you won't soon forget. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

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