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YA Fiction without real substance
on 5 May 2015
At least, I am presuming this was written for the Young Adult market - although, even on that level, it fails to deliver - based on the minimal character development, and the general lack of solid historical detail.
The blurb (intense relationship between Lisbeth, the privileged child of a Southern plantation owner and Mattie, a young black woman taken from her own nursing child to be Lisbeth's servant) was interesting enough for me to buy this as a Kindle Daily Deal. Having spent only ninety-nine pence, it seems unkind to grumble, but anyone looking for an insight into antebellum plantation life would do well to give this a miss. Far better to buy Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. It's a long read, but well worth the effort (at any age). Mitchell depicts the South, warts and all, but brings a depth of knowledge that allows her to create strong, believable characters that you love and loathe, while showing that not all Southerners were villains, nor all Northerners heroes.
Yellow Crocus, on the other hand, fails to summon any real sense of life in the Deep South prior to the American Civil War. Lisbeth is presented in her own little bubble of a world that seems to consist solely of her immediate family (parents, one grandmother, and later on brother, Jack) and her nursemaid, Mattie, along with Mattie's small family in the Slave Quarters. And Lisbeth's relationship with her family is marginalised from the outset by its neglect. Her father is little more than a sketchy character gliding by on the periphery, while her mother's early sentimentality seems to evaporate with her milk. Jack appears and grows up, presumably in his own bubble, since their paths seldom cross, except when the author feels the need to reinforce negative male stereotypes through a junior character. Grandmother Wainwright simply disappears halfway through the book.
While more time is spent depicting life in the slave quarters, even this is sketchily drawn. All we come away with is the knowledge that the White folks have it good in the big house and it's tough in the slave quarters where the Blacks live. The opportunity to show humanity on both sides is squandered while we follow Lisbeth's childhood, waiting for something vaguely interesting to happen.
At this point, Mattie's story is the more riveting and we do get drawn into the turmoil of her separation from her husband, Emmanuel, and son, Samuel. And it is Mattie's plan to be reunited with them that forms the best part of the book. Unfortunately, by the time her journey comes about, the author seems hell bent on getting to the end, and what could have been truly poignant and informative is simply glossed over in a few pages. What a travesty.
The story then returns to Lisbeth, who briefly struggles with the different living conditions between slaves and slave-owners but, in losing Mattie, she loses much of her humanity ... .
At this point, the author introduces a whole posse of children from neighbouring plantations in order to give Lisbeth a social circle of friends and possible suitors. And then it all descends into a dreary pastiche of Southern courtship and romantic conflicts. Along the way, Lisbeth has a Damascene conversion from slave-heiress to abolitionist that is as unbelievable as it is contrived. Her eventual meeting with Mattie (in another contrived transformation) lacks resonance, when it should have been one of joyous reunion. In fact, even bearing in mind the mediocrity of what had preceded it, and my low expectations, the last few chapters of the book were still a letdown.
As an adult reader, I expect my historical fiction to have a sound basis in history. Characters should be well-drawn and their actions and motivations believable. Plots do not have to be completely original but, new or not, the overall body of the work should leave me feeling edified and rewarded. Sadly, Yellow Crocus delivers on none of these points and so earns paltry two stars from me.