Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge (2020)

My favorite part of this book might be the cover art. It’s beautiful and a huge part of what drew me to it. Libertie is the daughter of a successful doctor who not only heals the sick but also rescues the enslaved as part of the underground railroad in New York. They arrive at her practice in a coffin–an unsuspecting way to transport live people. This is the opening scene of the novel: Libertie watching her mother open a coffin to a man who looks dead, but is, in fact, not dead; rather he’s in some sort of a sleepy stupor state and he wakes up in a not-so-kind state of mind, scaring (and possibly scarring?) Libertie but also opening her eyes to the work her mother does.

The book begins pre Civil War as they watch men head off to fight for the North, and it continues through the war and into post war Reconstruction with Libertie’s childhood years and then her college years, and eventually into her marriage to a Haitian man who trains with her mother in herbal medicine as well as more traditional medicine. He believes that life can only be better for Blacks by living in a country for and by Blacks, so they head to Haiti where he was born and where he feels the culture is of their own. Libertie’s mother disagrees. A mother-daughter rift–already underway while Libertie is in college–ensues. Much of the book focuses on this rift, though at times I got tired of that conflict–especially during Libertie’s college years where she has little reason to become estranged from her mother and acts rather immaturely and selfishly. Or perhaps Greenidge simply didn’t create a strong enough conflict to understand why Libertie feels so negatively toward her mother. The fact that she doesn’t want to be a doctor isn’t enough to explain how resentful she becomes.

I enjoyed the book enough to finish it, but I didn’t love it

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