Book Review: Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls #3) by Martha Hall Kelly

Random House Publishing Group

Ballantine Books

Historical Fiction

Pub Date 30 Mar 2021

About the Book:

Lilac Girls, the 1.7-million-copy bestselling novel by Martha Hall Kelly, introduced readers to Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist who helped young girls released from Ravensbruck concentration camp. Now, in Sunflower Sisters, Kelly tells the story of her ancestor Georgeanna Woolsey, a Union nurse who joins the war effort during the Civil War, and how her calling leads her to cross paths with Jemma, a young enslaved girl who is sold off and conscripted into the army, and Ann-May Wilson, a southern plantation mistress whose husband enlists.

Georgeanne “Georgey” Woolsey isn’t meant for the world of lavish parties and demure attitudes of women of her stature. So, when the war ignites the nation, Georgey follows her passion for nursing during a time when doctors considered women a bother on the battlefront. In proving them wrong, she and her sister Eliza venture from New York to Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg and witness the unparalleled horrors of slavery as they become involved in the war effort.

In the South, Jemma is enslaved on the Peeler Plantation in Maryland, where she lives with her mother and father. Her sister, Patience, is enslaved on the plantation next door and both live in fear of LeBaron, an abusive overseer who tracks their every move. When Jemma is sold by the cruel plantation mistress Anne-May at the same time the Union army comes through, she sees a chance to finally escape–but only by abandoning the family she loves.

Anne-May is left behind to run Peeler Planation when her husband joins the Union Army and her cherished brother enlists with the Confederates. In charge of the household, she uses the opportunity to follow her own ambitions and is drawn into a secret Southern network of spies, finally exposing herself to the fate she deserves.

My Thoughts:

When I began to read this story, I must confess my feelings were not completely favorable. I’ve read and studied the American Civil War for quite some years and was looking for something I haven’t read before. As the story unfolded, I became less frustrated and was intrigued with how the author portray the character’s personalities. Needless to say, she doesn’t hold back.

Kelly marvelously shows us multi-dimensional people of the time. Which is important to have a better sense of mindsets and not told just in the perspective of the people who oppose them. Yes, it can be a slippery slope in today’s social norms but it is extremely counterproductive when people’s voices-all around-are silenced. 

I was quite impressed with the realistic imagery of the Civil War background and the author’s portrayal of the evils of slavery. Heart-wrenching to say the least…

As the war continued, just about every household lost someone they loved. Death became commonplace and with Sunflower Sisters, you experience that fact, vividly.

The Civil War topic still holds to this day with powerful and emotional attitudes. There was a particular scene in the story where I felt the author was bringing up a subject that many don’t speak of openly. Powerful business men in the north of that time profited from slavery. Yes, they surely did as the sun rises. Still applies today, really. Slavery is the oldest institution in the world. The author also portrays quite a few prejudices by people in the north had towards people of color.

There was a couple themes in the story that reminded me of what C.S. Harris wrote in an interview I had with her a few years back. To turn the Civil War into a morality play in which one side equals good and the other evil serves only to distort history and perpetuate the dangerous divisions that still exist in our country over 150 years later.

Bravo, Martha Hall Kelly! You have written a story that provokes discussion and clarity on this sensitive subject. You give new meaning to the good, bad and ugly. Memorable characters and an unforgettable story that needed to be told.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Sunflower Sisters (Lilac Girls #3) by Martha Hall Kelly

  1. Excellent review, Stephanie. I am Canadian so have not read a lot about the civil war, so I am glad that this is a realistic story. That quote by C.S. Harris is very thought provoking.

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    • Thank you, Carla! I’m glad you enjoyed the review! I highly recommend C.S. Harris book, Good Time Coming, News of the World by Jiles Paulette, and Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird. Harris’s quote is certainly thought provoking. My interview with her was amazing! She is so insightful.

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  2. This is a great book, well written and has a beautiful story of strong women. Challenged a lot with the words using during that era – was in dictionary a lot! However, I lot new words!

    Liked by 1 person

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