Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley met in 1861 when Ms. Keckley, "a free black woman who had purchased her own freedom," came to the White House to interview for the position as the First Lady's dressmaker.
Despite her success among Washington, D.C.'s elite, "Lizzie" never believed she had a real chance at securing the position. Little did she realize that she and Mrs. Lincoln were about to embark on a friendship that would last a lifetime.
AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP is a unique breed of historical fiction in that doesn't follow a traditional linear model of storytelling.
Author Ann Rinaldi opens by depicting the day of President Lincoln's assassination, giving us the story from both Lizzie and Mary's perspectives throughout. She then moves on to depict each woman's life from early childhood to young adulthood, each followed by non-fictional, mini-biographies of their lives up to the point of their initial meeting. Ms. Rinaldi closes the novel with a final section describing the womens' lives and friendship after they left the White House.
What makes this novel such a great read is the author's careful attention to historical detail. While it's impossible to be certain of Lizzie and Mary's exact conversations and thoughts, knowing the events described have been verified - not "created" or amalgamated for editorial purposes - gives AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP a level of authenticity sorely lacking in most books in this genre.
And while I consider characterizing the relationship between a white woman of privilege and a mulatto woman born into slavery during the Antebellum period a generous overstatement, these two women undoubtedly formed a bond that was unique to their time and place in history - a feat always worthy of consideration.
Reviewed by: Cat