Fiery John Brown believed so fiercely in his cause that he lead a doomed rebellion in Harper’s Ferry that failed to inspire a slave revolt and ultimately lead to his execution shortly before the start of the Civil War. What is never discussed in history class is what happened to John Brown’s children. The Mapmaker’s Children tells us the story of what happened after these tragic events.
Sarah Brown survived a bout of dysentery only to be told she would never be able to have children, and not too long after, her brothers were killed in Harper’s Ferry and her father was arrested. Sarah and her family travel to West Charleston Virginia and stay with a sympathetic family, the Hills. Sarah finds herself attracted to the eldest son, Freddy Hill, but will they be able to make it work? Sarah is able to go to a private school in Massachusetts with her older sister and focus on her painting. They stay with the Alcott family during this time period. Before her father’s death, Sarah had painted pictures that included secret maps for slaves to use on the Underground Railroad as they searched for freedom. She paints a secret map for her father after his capture, but he is mortally wounded and unable to escape. As the war moves on, Sarah uses her skills to paint maps onto doll faces for use by the Underground Railroad.
In modern day New Charleston, Jack and Eden have moved into a historical home on Apple Hill Lane. Jack has just returned from a business trip with a puppy in hand to cheer his wife up. Eden doesn’t want to hear it. Eden and Jack were once wildly in love, but after years of unsuccessfully trying to have a child, Eden feels adrift. After her last failed in vitro fertilization session, Eden finds herself at wits ends in New Charleston without her successful career and at odds with her husband. Will she be able to find a new life in New Charleston? What is the mystery of her old house? Will Eden and Jack find their way back to each other?
I really enjoyed this novel. I loved how each chapter switched from present day to the historical narrative and that each story was as strong as the other. Great suspenseful endings of each chapter spurred me to read on. I really want to know what would happen to both Sarah and Eden. I loved both of their stories about women trying to find themselves in the world they were living.
I had never thought about John Brown’s children or family he left behind. Sarah Brown is a real historical person and I found her story to be intriguing. I especially loved how she did know many of the famous people of the day including the Alcott family. I found her relationship with Freddy and the Hill family to be especially poignant.
I also loved the mystery of Eden’s house and its history. As she discovers clues, the past also gives you answers to what it could be all about. I love old houses so this was particular intriguing to me.
I thought it was very interesting that the novel was titled The Mapmaker’s Children, when in fact, the main problem for both heroines in their inability to have any children. Through their actions though, they are able to make a difference in the lives of many children. For women, it is interesting how the inability to have children can define you and could cast a negative shadow on the rest of your life. I loved how Eden and Sarah were able to move beyond that and make a difference with their lives.
There is a great reader’s guide at the end of the novel with more information that I enjoyed perusing. I particularly loved the author’s note about the real Sarah Brown.
My inner Jane Austen fan loved this quote, “She shook her head. Of course he’d say that. It was the proper Mr. Knightly thing to say. He had to say it, right?” This is Eden talking with her brother about her problems with Jack.
First line of the novel, “The old house on Apple Hill Lane shuddered against the weighty snow that burdened its pitch.”
Last line, “Within the house, a dog barked a welcome as the Hills escorted the twins down the brick pathway lined with forget-me-nots and ruby balsams, still blooming in the unconventionally warm winter months.”
I love how the novel starts with the house seeming old, abandoned and covered with snow in the gloom of winter and ends with it open, welcoming, with flowers still blooming.
Overall, the Mapmaker’s Children is an excellent historical fiction and contemporary novel about women finding their place in the world during trying times.
Book Source: Review Copy as a part of the TLC Book Tour. Thank-you! Tour stops are located at this link.
About The Mapmaker's Children• Paperback: 336 pages • Publisher: Broadway Books (February 9, 2016) Have you ever wondered if your decisions could change the course of history? Questioned whether or not bad things happen for a reason? In Sarah McCoy's THE MAPMAKER'S CHILDREN: A Novel (in paperback February 9, 2016), two women's lives are inextricably linked as they struggle through personal conflicts and wade through mysterious secrets. As the chapters alternate between these two commanding female protagonists, the reader must redefine courage, family, and destiny alongside these two remarkable women. Sarah Brown, the fiercely independent daughter of abolitionist John Brown, is a talented artist in 1860s West Virginia. When Sarah discovers that she cannot bear children, she turns her skills toward helping others and becomes one of the foremost mapmakers for the Underground Railroad. Taking cues from Slave Quilt codes, she hides maps within her paintings as the United States moves toward a bloody civil war. Over one hundred and fifty years later, Eden Anderson, a modern-day woman struggling to conceive a child, moves into an old house in West Virginia as a last-ditch effort to save her marriage and start a family. When she stumbles across part of an old porcelain doll in the root cellar, Eden slowly uncovers a dramatic connection to the Underground Railroad. McCoy, whose novel The Baker's Daughter was a nominee for the 2012 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction, spent three years researching the Brown family history. This research became the basis for her inventive narrative, one in which McCoy honorably portrays the spirit of the real Sarah Brown and imagines her ties to the fictional Eden. Skillfully plotted and magnificently transporting, THE MAPMAKER'S CHILDREN highlights the power of community and legacy, illustrating the ways in which history and destiny are interconnected on one enormous, intricate map.