It has been a long time since I read a book that I loved like this one. The story of the book of lost friends is written beautifully by Lisa Wingate. The book is based on historical events and alternating sections begin with readings from newspaper ads about the lost friends. The friends were family members that were separated or sold away from their families during the days right before and then after the Civil War.
It is heart-wrenching and difficult to read, but Ms. Wingate weaves these stories into the lives of present-day people as well as following the story of three unlikely women that set off an incredible journey.
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It is 1987 when Benny Silva, a young woman fresh out of college, arrives in Augustine, Louisiana to her first teaching job. She will be working in a poor rural school for the length of time it takes to qualify for student loan forgiveness. Benny quickly learns that her middle-school and high school students are from the poor side of town and have no thought to doing better for themselves.
Benny rents a house on the land that once belonged to Missy and Juneau Jane’s father. Benny soon delves into mysteries that surround this house and the town- including who her house once belonged to and who owned a nearby fallen-down home that is filled with books.
At the same time, Benny is dealing with rambunctious students that take full advantage of her inexperience. Will she ever be able to hold their attention long enough to teach English and read classic novels? Benny is befriended by a local woman that owns a diner and she learns more about life in the town from her.
Alternating chapters tell the story of the Hannie. Hannie was a slave on a farm with her mother and many siblings. As the master needed money slaves were sold and separated from their families. Hannie watched in horror one day when her mother and baby sister were sent away from her. Her mother’s parting words were to remind her to never forget the names of her brothers and sisters and the people that had purchased them. Hannie clung to blue beads given to her by her grandmother who had brought the beads from Africa. Each of the girls had the same blue beads and this would be a way to always remember their kin.
Living on a large cotton farm Hannie is still in her early teens when she embarks on a journey to find Juneau Jane and Miss Lavinia’s father. Lavinia’s father was the farm master and Juneau Jane was his daughter by another woman. The father has disappeared to Texas and Juneau Jane needs to find him to ensure her inheritance. Her birth was the result of a hidden town family the man had apart from his farm family, so her inheritance is in question as is her relationship with her half-sister, Lavinia. Hannie, a freed slave, calls Lavinia “Missy”.
The three young women set out to Texas, disguised as boys, to find the father and they have quite a few mishaps and adventures.
It is during this search for the missing man that the threesome find advertisements for lost friends. The ads are posted in newspapers by relatives looking for husbands, wives, children, mothers, and fathers that were sold to other farms and separated from their families. Juneau Jane and Hannie begin to collect the stories in a book. They also inquire from nearly everyone they meet about their own missing people. Hannie always asks if anyone has seen women with the three blue beads.
The author does an amazing job of weaving these two stories together and the ways in which the stories connect is wonderful. There are scenes near the end of the book that will bring tears to your eyes. I listened to this book and suggest you do, too. The narrators were perfect with their parts. They did more than read- they acted out their pages. It was superb! Five stars, absolutely.
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My rating system: 5 stars means perfection- the book was written well, held my attention, and I did not want it to end. 4 stars- the book was really good, but I had questions or concerns about parts of it. This might include the way it ended. 3 stars- the book was okay, but I just didn’t like it much. 2 stars- I skimmed most of it. 1 star- I could not finish it.