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Inventing Victoria

Review

Inventing Victoria

Essie’s mother is a prostitute. There is no getting around that fact and that is the fact that totally humiliates her. But it is not just knowing what her mother does for a living; it is also the men who come and go from their house, the nights, the days, the endless shame of how she, Essie, is forced to live. As she grows older, Essie dreams of another life away from the shame and away from the mother she grows to resent and away from the strange men her mother calls “the uncles.” Where can she go?

"[Tonya Bolden's] attention to historical details along with her insightful portrayal of the characters make this an exceptional book."

When Ma Clara becomes a cleaning woman for her Mamma, Essie grows to love and trust her. The old woman is protective of Essie, encourages her to work hard, to go to school (though that doesn’t work out) and to try to better herself. Essie does work hard because Ma Clara finds a position for her as a maid. While her mother doesn’t like the arrangement, she accepts that her 14-year-old daughter has some of her own ideas and just maybe it’s for the best. Their parting is filled with bitterness, name-calling and anger. Good riddance to Mamma!

Essie makes a good friend in another working maid named Binah. Though her life is still difficult, she savors having some privacy and the encouragement of Ma Clara. She will probably never escape from this town but she will keep her head high and do the best she can do…she will never end up doing the things her mother does…

Essie’s life is set for some very big changes when a wealthy lady named Dorcas Vashon takes notice of her. Is Dorcas all she seems to be? She offers Essie an opportunity to get away from her present situation, offers her an education, fine clothing and, above all, a much better life. When Essie finally decides to take her chances there is another terrible altercation with her mother. But with encouragement from Ma Clara, Essie decides to leave her past behind. Is this going to be the biggest mistake she’s ever made?

The times ahead are much more difficult than Essie could ever imagine. She is now Victoria, because that is a name never associated with her past and sounds very regal. As she struggles to conform to society life, she loses some of Essie as Victoria takes over --- but not without some issues. Can any of this be worth the obstacles she now encounters?

Tonya Bolden has captured the spirit of post-Civil war south and the struggles that poor African American families faced --- especially women. Her attention to historical details along with her insightful portrayal of the characters make this an exceptional book. INVENTING VICTORIA is an excellent book to add to young adult collections and the growing genres for not only African American history but also women’s studies.

Reviewed by Sally Tibbetts on January 15, 2019

Inventing Victoria
by Tonya Bolden