Title: The Undertaker's Assistant
Author: Amanda Skenandore
Publish Date: July 30, 2019
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: ""The dead can't hurt you. Only the living can." Effie
Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows
the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during
the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood
and broken bodies--and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a
young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her
living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions
compensating for her white employer's shortcomings.
serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding
house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But
despite her reticence, two encounters--with a charismatic state
legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole,
Adeline--introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of
soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has
blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are
tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing
racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to
finally find her place . . ."
My Two Cents:
"The Undertaker's Assistant" is a fantastic historical fiction set just after the Civil War. Our main character is tough-as-nails Effie, a freedwoman, who was the assistant to a surgeon during the Civil War - almost unheard of for a woman and particularly unheard of for a black woman. Effie has very few memories from her childhood and seems to be doing everything to avoid dwelling on the past. She goes to New Orleans to make a living as an undertaker's assistant, it is definitely not a job for everyone but Effie seems to be more comfortable with the dead than the living oftentimes.
I loved Effie's character. She is tough and smart and has always done what she has needed to do to survive. She relies on herself as much as she can but she seems to be constantly running from the past and the bad memories that seem to crop up if she stays still for too long. At first, she seems quite cold and strange - what young lady would want to work with dead people? As the book unfolds, we see that there is much more there than meets the eye. We see her grow and bloom throughout the book and I loved following her.
New Orleans is one of those cities that had to grow on me. It took me three visits before I fell in love with it. It makes for such a good setting for this book. New Orleans has almost a mystical and sometimes macabre feeling to it. It is the perfect backdrop for Effie's story and her dealings with the dead. Add to it all of the things that were going on after the Civil War as people grappled with what the outcome meant for them and the lives they wanted to build.
The historical detail in this book is so good. Not for the tender-hearted but the descriptions of preparing the dead was fascinating. Effie pulls us into her world with nary a blink. I actually haven't read a lot of books set during Reconstruction so it was so interested to read how people were grappling with this brand new world. Overall, this was a great read and I am excited to see what the author writes in the future!