The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
Published April 7th 2020 by Ballantine Books
About the Book: A new novel inspired by historical events: a story of three young women on a journey in search of family amidst the destruction of the post-Civil War South, and of a modern-day teacher who rediscovers their story and its connection to her own students’ lives. Lisa Wingate brings to life stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as freed slaves desperately searched for loved ones who had been sold off.
Louisiana, 1875 In the tumultuous aftermath of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now-destitute plantation; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate free-born Creole half-sister; and Hannie, Lavinia’s former slave. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following dangerous roads rife with ruthless vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and eight siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage westward reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the seemingly limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.
Louisiana, 1987 For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt–until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, seems suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled oaks and run-down plantation homes lies the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I look forward to see what Lisa Wingate has written for us. She takes real events and writes realistic, heartbreaking stories that grab this reader. She does such an amazing job weaving together two timelines and this one is no exception.
Hannie Gossett, a young girl, watches as her family is taken from her and sold to different plantation owners. Her mama told her never to forget her family, and each of the children are given a poke sack with three blue glass beads off Grandmama’s necklace. When the civil war is over and Emancipation has been declared, Hannie sets off to search for her family. She is not alone, she is traveling with Lavinia Gossett, the daughter of her previous owners and a creole girl, the illegitimate daughter of her master, named Juneau Jane. These characters come together searching for their families, and deal with a lot of situations that are dangerous and frightening. Along the way, we hear about The Lost Friends letters and how the freed slaves tried to locate family. They play an important role in this story.
Fast forward to 1987 where we meet novice teacher, Benny. Her first teaching assignment is English in a small Louisiana town. She is hired to teach in the school where the students are from poor families, most of them people of colour. The curriculum has little to do with the life and interests of her students, who have taken to stealing and hiding the resources they do not want to read. They are often absent because their parents need them to look after younger siblings or to help their parents. Trying to find something to spark her students, she talks about “The Lost Friends” newspaper columns. She assigns them a research project to find out about their ancestors and put together a performance that will be part of a program to raise funds for the school and library. Once they begin this project, it takes off. Benny and the parents are quite thrilled, but not everyone in Augustine, Louisiana is happy.
I was curious how these two time periods would come together, but I shouldn’t have been worried. When the two timelines collide, it took my breath away. I was not expecting this ending at all, and I really enjoyed it. This is a character driven story that deals with race issues, the problems after the civil war affecting both emancipated slaves and others such as children of plantation owners, issues of poverty. I always learn something from Lisa Wingate’s books and I enjoy doing so. I definitely recommend this one to anyone who enjoys Historical Fiction from a time that you may not be familiar with.