Title: The Yellow Wife
Author: Sadeqa Johnson
Publisher: 37 Ink
Publish Date: January 12, 2021
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "A young female slave is sold to a married man who intends to start a family with her, even as he manages the particularly cruel estate, the Devil's Half Acre, where thousands of black people are beaten, broken, and sold."
My Two Cents:
When "The Yellow Wife" opens, Pheby is sure that life could not possibly be as bad anywhere else as it is on the plantation where she is forced to serve a difficult family. A broken promise loses Pheby her mother and lands Pheby in a decrepit jail where prisoners are treated so badly. Pheby tries to keep her head low but the owner of the jail takes a liking to Pheby and falls for her. Their relationship will never, ever be balanced but Pheby realizes that in order to preserve herself, she can try to keep her head above water by giving into this relationship (which broke my heart for her).
I've said it before and I'll say it again but one of the reasons I love historical fiction is that it can open your eyes to people and events that you've never known about. This book was so eye opening. Pheby is based on a woman named Mary Lumpkin who is forced to marry her jailer in mid-1800s Virginia, which is also where this book takes place. I never knew about the private jails and the fact that this story and the story it was based on took place not all that far away from where I am today was really fascinating. The research and detail that went into this book made this book, even with all of its difficult subject matter, compulsively readable.
Pheby is such a fantastic character. She is smart and savvy and such a survivor. She is able to do really difficult things with her eye ever on the future and how the decisions and the sacrifices she makes currently may lead to something better in the future. She is put into an unthinkable position when she is forced to marry her jailer and suddenly becomes mistress of the jail where people who look like her are thrown for no reason at all. The balancing act that she must go through in the book in order to keep going was amazing and quite difficult to read about. You are pulling for Pheby the whole time - she is amazing!
While Sadeqa Johnson is not a debut author, this is her debut historical fiction and I am so hopeful that she writes more. She took a really difficult series of events and truly brought it to life. This book has such a rich tapestry of detail and I thoroughly enjoyed it!