Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reconstructing Jackson by Holly Bush — 191 pgs

It’s 1867 in Fenton, Missouri, and Reed Jackson has just arrived. After fighting on the losing side of the Confederate War, Reed is now confined to a wheelchair and has been disinherited by his plantation-owning father. Reed’s father, a prejudiced and stalwart man, has decided that his son is unfit to do his family duty, and this necessitates Reed’s removal from the South. When he arrives in Fenton, he is kindly met by his cousin Henry and Henry’s bride, Mary Ellen, who agree to house Reed in their thriving hotel. But before Reed can begin to get a handle on his new life, he is faced with two huge difficulties: namely, the fact that African Americans in the North are treated very differently than in the South, and that the rescue of an abused woman will land Reed in a marriage he had not seen coming. As Reed struggles to unite himself with his new surroundings, he will, at the behest of his new wife, begin to see things in a very different way, leading to a sort of personal growth that he never even dreamed of. But racial tensions are still high in an area where slavery has just been abolished, and there are still men who aim to destroy the fragile peace that exists between the races. What happens one night will change everything for Reed and his wife, and will lead him on a new path of redemption and vengeance upon the faceless men who think and act exactly like the father he escaped.

I've been reading a great many books about racial inequality over the past few months, and although it does educate me in ways that my schooling never did, it also makes me realize that there are so many despicable notions that have permeated through history when it comes to the relations between Caucasians and African Americans. It’s all well and good to say that slavery is over, but as many people doubtlessly realize, the tensions between different ethnic groups still flourishes and stains the world even today. This is one of the reasons that this book was so eye-opening for me. While Reed, a man who is stuck in a wheelchair, has been raised owning slaves all his life and even lost his legs in order to protect that lifestyle, there is a marked growth and understanding that comes to him when he sees and experiences life in the North, where all men are free.

Reed is an angry and disheveled mess when he lands in Fenton, carrying years of regret and hurt with him like the baggage that he wheels along with. He sees things going on in the town that anger him, and he refuses to treat each Freeman with the dignity and respect that he has for his own race. When he meets Beulah Freeman, a Free Woman who manages the hotel owned by his cousin, he is initially rude and discourteous. As Beulah refuses to validate his chastisement and meets him with challenge, he becomes curious about her and begins to treat her with a grudging respect. This is the first change of many that will turn a man from a racially insensitive creature into a full-fledged human being—one who is caring and trusting, and one who goes far out of his way to help someone that Beulah cherishes.

The other catalyst to this story is the arrival of Belle. Belle is a woman who is dirt poor and lives with her abusive father and brothers. Though monetarily disadvantaged, Belle has honor, dignity and dreams for herself. Caught in a trap of her father and brothers’ making, Belle’s only way out of her daily beatings is to marry Reed. What at first seems an act of pity begins to change the lives of everyone in the town, most markedly Reed’s. In the book’s exploration of love as a softening agent, Reed makes decisions that he never thought himself capable of. His heart, once a festering wound, begins to show that thing that we all wish for, self actualization. It’s more than the love for Belle that proves to be his remaking, but the love that he finally grants to himself that gives him the courage to break the bonds of slavery to a life that keeps others as property and evaluates them by the color of their skin. A lifelong promise is what he makes, but what is more important is that he is rebuilt, from stern to soul.

While some of this book made me angry, especially the violence that was perpetrated on African Americans and women, I think the author did a wonderful job immersing herself in the realities of the times and subjects that she sought to capture. There was a sweetness to the changing reflections of Reed and the courage that he demonstrated on behalf of people he would have earlier shunned. It was easy to keep turning the pages and reading because the characters were realistic, and history tells me that they were also accurate. A novel that moved me, despite my initial reluctance.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

16 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds a bit like the plot of Porgy and Bess, which of course makes me want to read it!

bermudaonion said...

I generally don't care for books set during this time period but just read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Freeman, so I'll have to think about this one. The fact that it moved you says a lot to me.

Ti said...

I like the sound of this one. The fact that it made you angry but opened your eyes as well, really says something. I am fascinated by race relations but especially during this time period.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I like this sound of this one too. I like to be shaken awake, and possibly learn something too.

Holly said...

Hello Zibilee,
Thank you ever so much for the beautifully written review and for taking a chance on a new author. I'm happy to chat if anyone is talkative!
Holly

Suko said...

This book sounds very moving, and I enjoyed your descriptive review.

nomadreader said...

I read one of the author's book recently and liked it but didn't love it. This one sounds much more serious, and I'm intrigued by it.

Amy Meyer said...

What an amazing book. I'd love to read this. Your review is wonderful and piqued my interest in this book.
I'm often shocked and dismayed over the way African Americans were treated in our country during the period in this book and before it. Women, too.
Thank you for bringing this book to my attention.

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one sounds like a great read. Your review convinced me to read this one. I'll be adding it to my wish list.

Marie said...

this sounds like a really wonderful book! i'm going to look for it at work.

Athira said...

I like the sound of this book. It sounds both powerful and enlightening. I will have to read it.

Lisa said...

Sounds wonderful! You're always adding books to my wish list that I'd never even heard of before you review them!

Trisha said...

I love that you write that books can educate you in a way school can't. As a college professor, I am constantly aware of the rather superficial look students get at major issues. I wish we had more time to put more novels in our classes.

Literary Feline said...

This sounds like such a fascinating and thought provoking book to read. I am especially curious about Reed's experiences in terms of how his views changed. In a world where there is so much prejudice and bigotry, it is nice to come across a story that not only addresses it, but shows us that people can change.

Beth F said...

This is a time period I really like and make a compelling case to read this one.

Marg said...

I read this one a couple of months ago and thought it was a very revealing read. I thought that the author was brave to include some of the events and some of the language that she did!

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