4 out of 4 stars
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The Trials and Tribulations of Modesty Greene by D.W. Plato is a moving and brilliantly written historical fiction novel detailing an inside look into life as a slave in the years preceding abolition. The book opens with Mo’destee Vert, a gifted teenager in a small tribe of Senegambia in 1789. We learn about the harmonious daily lives of her tribe, her excitement for becoming a woman, and marrying Jabari, a local young man to whom she had been betrothed since birth. But with the arrival of the white man, life as they know it is destroyed forever.
Mo’destee endures the horrors of the Middle Passage, losing many loved ones and witnessing gruesome acts. She then lands in Maryland, where she becomes the property of Robert Banks, a cruel plantation owner. She is not only subjected to her master’s brutal ways, but also the unusual ideas of his daughter, Ethel. Ethel sees Mo’destee as a playmate and this ultimately causes far more trouble than it’s worth.
The Trials and Tribulations of Modesty Greene not only does a deep dive into Mo’destee’s life and horrific experiences with slavery, but also into those of her descendents. After three generations of slavery, Mo’destee’s granddaughter, Araminta Ross (known also as Harriet Tubman), discovers her life’s true calling as she fights for not only her own freedom, but for those of her fellow men and women through her critical role in the Underground Railroad.
I honestly could not put this book down. It was gripping and graphic, and while I certainly grappled with much of the horrific imagery, I was overwhelmingly moved by the power of the human spirit and the author’s ability to describe it all so vividly. The writing begged me to feel the immense burden of slavery and to suffer alongside each of the well-developed characters. I found myself developing a bond with Mo’destee’s family, and cheered them on with all my might as they conversely held on to all the joy and hope they could muster.
I also really enjoyed learning more than I had known previously about the life and ancestry of Harriet Tubman. I thought it was really smart how the author wove fiction with history and unabashedly took on a topic that has afflicted humankind since the dawn of time. I absolutely give this novel 4 out of 4 stars. While I did spot a few typos, such as “causally” instead of “casually” or “worked of” instead of “off,” these minor errors did absolutely nothing to detract from the text. I would definitely caution sensitive and young readers though, because a number of the gruesome acts these poor people were subjected to are depicted in detail. Still, I must say that if there is a way to tastefully describe terribly true things in history, I do believe this author found just such a way. I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about Harriet Tubman, who enjoy historical fiction, and also who love to read about the human spirit overcoming enormous odds.
Trials & Tribulations of Modesty Greene
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