Updated: Dec 9, 2019
I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book through Bookish First. I am providing this review voluntarily.
Remembrance by Rita Woods was an intriguing and moving debut novel that was a breathtaking mix of historical fiction and magic. The characters and the story stuck with me after I had finished reading, and I can tell that this is a book that I’ll reread again and again. This book is going to be released on January 21, 2020.
TRIGGER WARNING: racism, slavery, use of the N word, descriptions of cruel punishments and executions, and gun violence.
Remembrance is just a rumor, a whisper passed in the fields and lost behind sheets of laundry. It’s a hidden stop on the road north to freedom, a safe place that is protected by more than secrecy, all you have to do is get there.
In present day Ohio, Gaelle is a young Haitian woman trying to manage her life. She works as an aide in a nursing home, and feels a connection to an elderly woman. No one seems to know anything about the woman, but she is more than she seems.
New Orleans in 1857 is facing a period of unrest. Margot is a house slave who has been promised freedom upon her 18th birthday. As the day approaches, tragedy strikes, and she is sold to a new master. Desperate for the freedom she was promised, she escapes and follows a whisper to Remembrance.
Haiti in 1791 is on the brink of a revolution. Abigail is a slave who is forced to leave her children behind to accompany her mistress to safety in New Orleans. When she arrives, she finds more than she expected in New Orleans.
There are four main characters in the book,, and they each undergo their own transformation in the book. I loved seeing how each of them stop being so accepting of their everyday life and start changing in small ways. These small actions wind up having large consequences, and ultimately influencing the people around them.
Gaelle is haunted by her past, when a devastating earthquake tore her life apart. She seems lonely, and her only family member is across the country in college. As the book shifts back and forth in time and between characters, there are struggles that she faces that influence her decisions later in the book.
Margot wants nothing more than her freedom, which has been promised to her within a few months. She is treated fairly well for a slave (which just feels disgusting to even say, since the idea of being owned another person is horrific), and has not been separated from her grandmother and younger sister. But when her situation changes, she makes a change of her own. I can’t even imagine the bravery that it takes to leave behind everything you’ve ever known.
Abigail is perhaps the most intriguing character for me. Born in Africa, she was brought to Haiti to work in the coffee fields. Her story was brutal to read, but probably mirrored the experience of countless slaves throughout history. However, she turned it into a source of immense power, and used that to provide a sanctuary for people like her, so that they could escape that and change the ending to their story.
Winter is another curious character, and I think she went through the most dramatic change. Although she was born as a free woman, she experienced her fair share of trauma. Like Abigail, rather than give into it, she tapped it and turned it into a source of strength and power.
While this book is a work of historical fiction, there are strong elements of magic in it as well. Each of the four main characters has their own magical powers, and some of the minor characters do as well. The female characters play a strong role in this book, and for the most part, male characters play supporting roles to the females. I loved how the book went back and forth in time, from character to character. I couldn’t wait to see how it all tied together. I didn’t really see how all the pieces quite fit together until the end, but I absolutely loved how it ended.
Books about slavery are never easy to read. The brutality of how slaves were treated, the blatant racism, the fact that actual human beings were treated like property, and the unimaginable trauma that this has are painful to even read about. However, I think that Rita Woods has done an absolutely incredible job of writing about this topic sensitively, but found a way to take this and managed to make it empowering.
The manner in which the stories were woven together made me realize how far our society has come in some ways, but how little it has changed in others. Racism and hatred are still alive and well, and it shows that we still have a long way to go. While it is a story about pain and loss, it is also a story about love and hope as well. I also think it's important to point out that this is a story told entirely from the point of view of women of color at various points in history, but the message I got was that they never let their circumstances break their spirit, no matter how bad things got.
As this book has shown, healing is possible, but it takes time and work. I’d definitely recommend this book to any and everyone. I think it would be a great tool for educators as well.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 17
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars