Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Book Review: Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee

About the Book:

Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena’s banker father has retreated into the bottle, her sister is married to a lazy charlatan and gambler, and Rena is an unemployed newspaper reporter. Eager for any writing job, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena.

As Frankie recounts her life as a slave, Rena is horrified to learn of all the older woman has endured—especially because Rena’s ancestors owned slaves. While Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. But will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?

Read an excerpt from Under the Tulip Tree on the publisher's website.

My Thoughts:

Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee boldly invites the reader into the lives of Frankie, a 101-year-old former slave, and Lorena (Rena), a struggling writer, whose family once owned slaves. Frankie is an especially fascinating character. The way she talks – both her word choice and forthrightness – captivated me and made her the star of this novel in both timelines. Despite her tragic past, she bestows love on all those around her, treating all as family.

Although Under the Tulip Tree is based on the Federal Writers’ Project from the late 1930s, it is a work of deeply moving historical fiction. Sometimes the story felt very sad, and I paused reading as needed. The novel deals with themes of hatred, forgiveness, and racial reconciliation. I appreciated that hope prevailed for both Frankie and Rena.

Under the Tulip Tree by Michelle Shocklee stands as the best book I have read so far in 2021. I read it with my church’s ladies book club and it generated plenty of discussion. I highly recommend this novel to readers of historical fiction.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided a copy of this book by the author or publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.

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