From girlhood to womanhood, Libertie is one woman's journey to freedom—both mental and physical—inspired by the life of one of America's first Black female doctors. Talk about some stunning writing and storytelling.
I think this book is going to be the source of a lot of discussion this year. It feels like a story that will last, not the least because of its captivating writing and strong sense of character.
Libertie is a free born Black woman growing up in Brooklyn in the mid-1800s. Her mother is a practicing doctor. The two women and their female assistant, Lenore, operate a medical practice for Black people in the New York area, and occasionally for white women, too, as Libertie's mother can pass for white.
In this uniquely matriarchal and progressive bubble, Libertie is raised. She is raised to be educated, to read and write and learn medicinal treatments, and to follow in her mother's footsteps as a free Black woman with ambitions of her own. She grows up with an abundance of food, education, and sense of self in a world where many Black individuals are still actively enslaved and seeking freedom.
But like many daughters, Libertie doesn't necessarily recognize the unique circumstances of her mother's efforts as a gift to savor... she needs to carve her own path, regardless of the consequences.
Spanning from Brooklyn to Ohio to Haiti and beyond, Libertie was a physical, mental, and emotional journey that will remain with me for years to come.
I thought this novel was beautiful. The writing was show-stopping—Greenidge's prose lifted me into the story immediately and I found myself swept along for the ride in a consuming reading experience. Even though I disagreed with many of Libertie's actions and feelings, I couldn't help but read her story.
Complex themes of racial identity, divides between free born Black people and those escaping from enslaved situations in the American South, what it means to be female and Black in 1800s America, classicism, religion, a hint of magical realism... this novel packed in a lot in its 300-some pages. I thought it was masterfully done.
My one caveat to the reading experience is minor, and most likely personal. I found Libertie's refusal to trust and follow her mother's guidance to be intense. This might be because my own relationship with my mother is very close, but for whatever reason I found Libertie's decisions to be rash and filled with an odd level of anger and distrust. Clearly a personal reason, but still wanted to mention it here in case other readers feel the same way.
Overall, a beautiful story that I hope receives a wide readership this year. One of my favorite reads of 2021.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.