Sunday, May 23, 2021

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge


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I've got mixed feelings about Libertie. I was excited to read it and was looking for a good historical novel. It delivered in some ways, and fell flat in others. 

Libertie is about a young woman who is the daughter of a light skinned female doctor living near New York City in the mid-late 19th century. Libertie's mother often passes for white, but Libertie, on the other hand, is very dark-so much so that people comment on her skin often. Her mother's deepest wish is to have Libertie become a doctor and join in her practice. Libertie, for a long time, also believes in this dream, but as she grows older, her enthusiasm fades. 

Libertie witnesses her mother bring a man back to life after he's escape slavery by being drugged and put in a coffin. That episode leaves Ben Daisy mentally fragile, as does his inability to come to peace with his escape from slavery. 

Libertie sees first hand her mother's attempts to cure Ben--and they all fail. It sets in motion Libertie's growing awareness of her mother as a human capable of failure. Once her mother accepts white female patients, Libertie's views take another blow. These patients refuse to have Libertie touch them, and her mother doesn't stand up for her. Libertie is sent away to college to become a doctor, and there is where she finally realizes she does not want to follow in her mother's footsteps. 

This is where the book takes a shift. Libertie's college experience involves meeting The Graces, two young women who sing. Libertie befriends them, and decides music is her love, not medicine. Yet she's afraid to confess to her mother, and this leads to a big break between mother and daughter, and a life changing course for Libertie. 

This is a novel that is about relationships and the drive for freedom: freedom from slavery, freedom from society, freedom to be who you want to be. Libertie struggles to figure out not only who she wants to be, but where she wants to be. How much does the color of her skin define her choices? Will she ever be free from her mother's expectations and disappointments?

I found the first half of the novel very interesting and I dove right in; however the second half slowed considerably and took kind of a strange turn into Haiti. I got a little lost and it kind of dragged for me. But, I was still invested in Libertie's story, and while the ending may not be satisfactory for some readers, I thought it left  readers with the opportunity to finish Libertie's story for themselves. 

If you're looking for a novel big on self-reflection, relationships, and the black experience in post-Civil War America, this is for you. It is a coming of age story that will resonate with readers. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that examines the many ways women choose to be free. Mother-daughter relationships, marital relationships, expectations gone awry, and living with choices. 

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