A Sitting in St. James

HarperCollins/Quill Tree. May 2021. 480p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062367297.
Gr 9 Up–In 1860, Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert rules Le Petit Cottage in the St. James Parish region of Louisiana with an iron fist. She is disappointed in her son, Lucien, who is experiencing financial woes in operating the plantation. She denies the existence and presence of her mixed-race granddaughter, Rosalie, whom she forbids in her home. She places all her hope in her white grandson, Byron, to continue their royal French bloodline and inherit their family vineyard in France. She suspects Byron is in love with fellow West Point cadet Robinson Pearce so she sets up his engagement to Eugénie Duhon. She abuses her enslaved girl Thisbe into total silence at her beck and call. She assumes etiquette lessons for tomboyish Jane Chatham, a planter’s daughter who is uninterested in womanhood and focuses all her energies on her horse, Virginia Wilder, and the amount of meat in her meals. She looks forward to sitting for a portrait. However, her Old-World mindset begins to erode beyond her control. This is a wonderful character-driven novel as stories of the enslaved and the slaveowners are simultaneously told. Williams-Garcia does an excellent job in taking readers through France’s colonial and revolutionary histories and their impact on Louisiana’s development as a New World outpost.
VERDICT This novel is a necessary purchase for conversations about slavery’s legacy in the Black Lives Matter era.

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