I love historical fiction that’s based on real people, and there’s perhaps no more intriguing of a person than one of the first female, black doctors in the US in the 19th century. This woman raised her daughter in the hopes that she would follow in her footsteps and also become a physician. “Libertie” is told from the daughter’s point of view. So, the set-up for this novel promised to be a really good read. However, there were some disappointing elements that kept this from being a fave of mine.
First, to mention the things that I liked: historical Brooklyn was a really unique and interesting setting and the time period is one that isn’t covered too much in historical fiction. I also loved the complicated relationship between Libertie and her mother. I’m sure anyone with strict, controlling parents can relate. Greenidge also has a really melodical way of writing that reminded me of Tahenisi Coates’ “The Water Dancer.” There’s a little bit of magical realism and folklore sprinkled throughout.
Now, I have to say that all of these elements didn’t quite add up for me. There were stylistic choices that didn’t make sense in my opinion (such as switching to second person perspective for one chapter only). There were also inclusions of another language that weren’t always translated – this took me out of the story when I was trying to really connect to Libertie’s character.
Without giving away too much of the story, I felt like Libertie’s story fell flat when she ventured away from home and from her mother. The section of the book where Libertie goes away to college should have been exciting and fascinating but really just left me wishing that there were more interactions between mother and daughter. I was also really disappointed by the ending. It felt incredibly rushed and it just made me wish that the story had extended to what Libertie’s future would have looked like.
With this subject matter, I thought this book would be a hit for me. But I really just wish the story had felt more organic to me in the end – I definitely struggled with some of Greenidge’s choices.
*Free ARC provided by Netgalley and Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review*