Official Review: The Chronicles of Neffie by A.L. Gibson

Please use this forum to discuss historical fiction books. Common definitions define historical fiction as novels written at least 25-50 years after the book's setting.
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NadineTimes10
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Official Review: The Chronicles of Neffie by A.L. Gibson

Post by NadineTimes10 » 09 Apr 2018, 08:10

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "The Chronicles of Neffie" by A.L. Gibson.]
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2 out of 4 stars
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Becoming a young woman can be a difficult journey for any girl. Still, that difficulty compounds for a girl who is owned by someone else. Neffie is a black, enslaved, fifteen-year-old girl, growing up with her family on a plantation in Alabama. She shares some of her joys, and especially her hardships, in The Chronicles of Neffie, a historical fiction novel by author A.L. Gibson.

In this story that is loosely based on actual events, the heroine’s distinct voice immediately comes to life. Neffie relates her account in her natural way of speaking, with dashes of dry humor and moments of raw emotion. The novel effectively illustrates some of the ironies and complexities surrounding the issue of slavery. Intelligence and learning can be gifts, but for an enslaved person in the American South during the nineteenth century, being too learned is unsafe. Neffie must hide the true level of her intelligence from many people, including her white master. Likewise, physically budding into womanhood can be a trial but also a source of pride for a girl. Yet, Neffie’s blossoming body puts her at increasing risk of being raped by cruel men, particularly her master.

In line with this story’s irony are Neffie’s references to well-known “Southern hospitality” and “charm.” While white Southerners promote genteel hosting and manners among themselves, “There ain’t no such thing as ‘hospitality’ or charm when you’re a slave,” Neffie says. Nevertheless, the author does not depict all of the white characters as mean-spirited because they own enslaved people. Conversely, not all of the enslaved characters are faultless. In this way, the author sheds nuanced light on a complex subject.

Even so, some of the individual characters are rather one-dimensional and could have been more nuanced, especially the villains. Human beings are just as complex as their circumstances, if not more so. Hence, a glimpse or two of something curious or less than negative about the villains would have made their characters less like caricatures.

There are times when Neffie’s storytelling is redundant. Other times, I found the flow of events in her narration to be choppy and difficult to follow. The dialogue runs together sometimes without separate paragraphs to differentiate between the speakers. Though it may simply be her style of speech, Neffie constantly switches between past and present verb tenses. It can be hard to tell whether she is speaking of past events or if she is relaying them in real time, as they happen.

I considered that because these are her “chronicles,” Neffie might be writing about what has already taken place. However, there are usually differences between how a person speaks and how a person writes, even if the differences are minor. If Neffie is writing these events down, it seems unlikely that she would add apostrophes to many of her words, such as “sumthin’” and “nuthin’,” when the words are not a part of dialogue. All of the dialogue is italicized, and it seems unlikely that Neffie would write in italics. Moreover, there are grammatical errors and inconsistencies throughout the book, but it is unclear how much of that may be due to Neffie’s speech and flawed writing, if she is indeed the story’s writer and not only the narrator.

Some of the weaknesses and the want of clarity in this story may be an obstacle for readers. Yet, the heroine and her forthright narrative have a subtle power. Therefore, I give The Chronicles of Neffie a rating of 2 out of 4 stars. I’d recommend it to readers who would enjoy historical or literary fiction written in a highly colloquial style.

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The Chronicles of Neffie
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Post by manueri256 » 10 Apr 2018, 02:09

Thanks for that grate review. I have not read it yet but am going to do so immediately.

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Post by NadineTimes10 » 10 Apr 2018, 02:18

manueri256 wrote:
10 Apr 2018, 02:09
Thanks for that grate review. I have not read it yet but am going to do so immediately.
Glad to hear it! I hope you enjoy the novel. :)

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Post by kandscreeley » 10 Apr 2018, 07:32

I dislike the slipping between tenses like that. It always throws me off. However, I love the idea of this story. So, I hope the author can make some changes because it is something I could see myself getting into. Thanks.
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Post by MsTri » 10 Apr 2018, 10:46

I saw this book on the list and very seriously considered reading it; having read your review, I kind of wish I had picked it, and I will read it as time permits. I don't think the writing style would bother me, but I may be irritated by the changes in tense, so thanks for the forewarning.

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Post by Mr Benji » 10 Apr 2018, 11:11

"An enslaved 15 year old girl" would surely be an interesting story to read.
Thanks Nadine Times 10.

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Post by Irene C » 10 Apr 2018, 13:56

Thanks for this review. If I understand you right, the low rating is due mainly to the stylistic issues you mention. It seems possible many readers could choose to set those aside when considering the novel.
Like fictional characters? Like guessing games?
Then you'll love the 20 Questions-Guess the Character game, found in the Off Topic forum! 8-)

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Post by stacie k » 10 Apr 2018, 14:35

I'm a fan of historical fiction, so I think I would find a lot to appreciate about a book in this setting. I hope the stylistic issues you mentioned wouldn't be too much of a distraction. Thanks for an informative review!
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Post by NadineTimes10 » 10 Apr 2018, 15:23

Irene C wrote:
10 Apr 2018, 13:56
Thanks for this review. If I understand you right, the low rating is due mainly to the stylistic issues you mention. It seems possible many readers could choose to set those aside when considering the novel.
Yes, it seems that way to me, too! :) So I actually held off for about a week before submitting a review of this book, to be sure I was settled about the rating I'd choose. I think it can be tricky to strike a good balance in a novel like this: to be authentic to a character who has his/her own style of grammar or poor writing mechanics, but to still have a clean enough structure so that you don't distract or lose the reader in the midst of errors. I've read a number of books with characters who have their own way of speaking or writing, but I found this book confusing in a number of places.

It's times like these, though, when I see why some reviewers and publications don't use star ratings, as a book's value or merit can't always be summed up with a number. While I myself use ratings for most (not all) of my reviews elsewhere, when it comes to a book like this, I wish I could waive a rating and just let everyone weigh the content of the review for themselves. :techie-studyinggray: Still, on the particular rating scale here, I consider 2 stars not to be a low rating but an even one--or a "Fair" rating, as the scale words it.

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Post by NadineTimes10 » 10 Apr 2018, 16:57

I should probably also note that I think with a crucial topic like pre-Civil-War slavery, which Americans have been writing about for so many years, nuanced characters become even more important for modern fiction.

It's one thing to create a kind of "Simon Legree" character like the master in Uncle Tom's Cabin, someone who's one-dimensional, thoroughly bad and cruel for the sake of it. But it's a little harder to create a villain or antagonist (since not all antagonists are villians) who has more complex sides, who shows the complex effects that something like the institution of slavery has on a person in power.

And even slavery aside, no single human being tends to be all good or all bad. I think Neffie herself is an effective reflection of that reality (for reasons I won't mention so as not to spoil the plot), and I think it's just as important to reflect that reality in a story's "bad guys." It makes for a deeper read. :)

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