The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
This spellbinding and emotionally charged novel follows two timelines with a connection not discovered until the end. Using flowing, descriptive writing, this novel reads at a fast pace and I had trouble putting it down. The novel begins in the modern era with the introduction of the house that serves as the initial connection between the two eras. Then the historical timeline debuts in the following chapter, followed by the introduction of the lead modern character in the chapter that follows.
The historical timeline follows the life of Sarah Brown, daughter of the Abolitionist John Brown. It opens to Sarah discovering her father’s role in the Underground Railroad just before Harper’s Ferry and her offer to lend her artistic skills to the effort. Then upon word of the raid and her father’s execution to follow, Sarah, her sister Annie, and their mother travel to New Charlestown, Virginia for their father’s last day. They stay with the Hill family and their family-like servant, Siby. During their short stay, the families become close friends, none better than Sarah and Freddy Hill. The Browns also get to know Siby’s family, the Fishers. However, with the political climate, the Browns soon return northward. Readers then follow Freddy and Sarah’s complicated relationship through the Civil War; it is one of true love unfulfilled, yet also one of the best partnerships that aided the Underground Railroad.
In the modern timeline, readers are introduced to Eden Norton Anderson, her husband Jack, and their young neighbor Cleo Bonner. Eden is despondent after her most recent miscarriage and she and her husband move into a historic house in New Charlestown. Jack soon brings home a dog her affectionately names Cricket (there is a story behind the name; I cannot mention it without spoiling the plot). Eden is at first resistant to her “replacement child” and when Jack leaves on a business trip her hires Cleo to take care of Cricket. Cleo’s fearless and commanding disposition breaks through Eden’s shell, helping Eden to again find herself and joy in life. Part of this occurs because Eden shares with Cleo a treasure found in the root cellar, leading both to try to discover its history. The rest is their connection though Cricket. Other members of the town and Eden’s brother join the story as the mystery unfolds and Eden comes alive.
While at first the two stories seem to be unconnected, McCoy slowly unveils their connection and she does so masterfully. There are clues in both timelines and everything comes together in the last chapters, which is also where the novel’s title finally becomes understood. Many of these clues are revealed through family ties and historic artifacts, including the house itself. McCoy ties in several historical facts she builds upon, such as how items were often smuggled southward in children’s toys, especially dolls. She also ties Sarah’s artistic skills to the maps that guided the Underground Railroad in surprising ways. However, as the end note mentions, the latter is fiction. We do not really know if Sarah did this but we do know she was an artist as several of her works remain; it is entirely possible she did make some of the maps but not enough information remains about Sarah to know for sure. In all, the historic part was an excellent vision of what Sarah’s life may have been like using the few known facts. As for Eden and Cleo, their story is touching and very realistic.
Both of the key relationships in the book–Sarah and Freddy and Eden, Cleo, and Cricket–are very touching and will both tear at your heart and warm it, depending on the point in the book. McCoy writes in a way that allows the reader to feel their emotions and react alongside them. Most strongly felt are the longing for what cannot be and the power of love across time and geography.
This novel will be released tomorrow, 5/5/15.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Do you plant to read this novel? Have you read anything similar to recommend? I will note, I do have McCoy’s The Baker’s Daughter on my to-read list.