Sunflower Sisters

Ballantine. Mar. 2021. 528p. ISBN 9781524796402. $28. F
Best-selling novelist Kelly (Lilac Girls; Lost Roses) once again uses the history of philanthropist Caroline Ferriday’s family as a jumping-off point to explore a particular historical era in her latest novel. Georgeanna “Georgey” Woolsey, a young woman from a privileged background who’s determined to prove her worth as a Civil War nurse, is Kelly’s inspirational Ferriday relative this time, while Jemma, a young enslaved woman, and Ann-May Wilson, the mistress of the plantation where Jemma lives, serve as the novel’s other primary protagonists. From the terrors visited on Jemma and her family at the Wilsons’ Maryland plantation to the bloody fields of Gettysburg, Kelly weaves a far-ranging tale of interlocking destinies and moving displays of kindness and bravery.
VERDICT Some of the characters in Sunflower Sisters seem rather two-dimensional (particularly the arrogant male doctors Georgey encounters), and the three–protagonist formula that worked so well in Lilac Girls falters a bit here as the urgency and suspense of Jemma’s narrative completely outstrips those of the other two women. Overall, however, this emotionally satisfying novel will please Kelly’s many fans and will be a strong addition to historical fiction collections.
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