REVIEW: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
In America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie, you’ll feel happiness, anger, frustration, joy, sadness and relief for the characters as you follow them through this fascinating, yet often heartrending, time in American history. An amazing piece of fiction based on an enormous amount of historical research, this novel will churn your emotions.
I can’t say that this book impressed me in the beginning and I wondered about the hype. I grew to love and respect this piece of historical fiction, but it wasn’t always an easy book to read. AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER begins when Martha Jefferson is fifteen years old and follows her life as an adult until after her father’s death.
Having lost her mother, Martha was encouraged by both parents to be the one in charge, as well as assist her father. This gave Martha a sense of first ladyship rather than allowing her to be a child. Distraught over his wife’s death, Jefferson made Martha feel as if she was responsible for his happiness. Martha’s mother willed her to take care of her father so all combined, it was a lot of pressure for a girl just becoming a woman.
I was conflicted while reading the first quarter of this book because sometimes Martha seemed every bit a teenager with teenage angst. Then the next moment she seemed so grown up. I wasn’t getting a true sense of who she was, a teenager or an adult, until I remembered that in that time period, young women were getting married at fifteen and expected to handle grownup responsibilities. I was as conflicted as Martha must have been!
Halfway through the book I became fully absorbed but often angry and disgusted. It’s a true testament to the authors’ talent to engage my emotions to tears. I was mad at Jefferson even while I empathized with him. I was disappointed in our forefathers, while amazed at all that happened in France that I somehow missed in my history lessons. I was thoroughly disgusted with the practice of slavery, a practice that has always offended me but it just seemed even more appalling the further I read into Martha’s life. The biggest emotion I felt was anger, including exasperation toward men in general for their misguided ideals about women during those times. What Martha went through was hard and overwhelming, but she wasn’t the only female mistreated. I think I found those situations the most disturbing.
Martha wasn’t perfect. There were times that she irritated me with her choices. She made mistakes and sometimes she shocked me. The options women had were limited and even more so as slaves, so my empathy grew as the atrocities against them developed. In the end, the woman that Martha becomes is impressive. What a fascinating life she led filled with courage.
This novel explores a variety of famous people but it reads very much like a historical saga. There are rumors and conjectures that threaten Jefferson’s reputation and political career. There are several love stories and clandestine love affairs. Martha grows up within her father’s political career and becomes a respected part of that society. But it’s their day-to-day lives that are so fascinating.
Based on fact, the authors disclose at the end where they’ve altered the timing of events or made assumptions to create this story into a concise package. Since Jefferson was such a judicious letter writer, the volume of what they had to work with had to be mind boggling. A nice addition to this book are the examples of those letters that tie into the chapters.
Not your typical romance, but still filled with love, this novel has a satisfactory conclusion that will please most readers who prefer romantic stories. As with any time in history, there are lies, cruelty, abuse, infidelity, violence, disrespect and depravity. Reliving history isn’t always pleasant. You won’t always like what is written, even if it is the truth.
Like Martha, Jefferson isn’t flawless, nor are the majority of the characters in this story. Our forefathers were determined in their goals for freedom and independence, but the road is long and hard, filled with strife and unspeakable hardships that will make you hate the people involved sometimes, as much as you empathize and feel a sense of pride in what they accomplished in their lifetime. Sometimes it’s also downright embarrassing for the outrages against humanity.
I’ve avoided specifics about this novel on purpose. This book has so many layers that you really should read it from cover to cover without having it spoiled. I think it will be more fun for you to experience the book just like I did without any hints.
Every woman should read AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER. This novel relives the heart and soul of who we are today as women and as a country. May we never go back to the days of disrespecting human rights, as well as remember with commitment that all men and all women are created equal. AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER is compelling historical fiction that lingers long after the last page is turned, tempting you to read it again from the beginning.
Review by Dorine, courtesy of Romance Junkies and The Zest Quest. Digital ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss.
Do you enjoy fiction created from historical documents?