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Essie's Roses by Michelle Muriel

Essie's Roses

by Michelle Muriel

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This is the story of four women in the period just prior to the Civil War. Miss Katie is mistress of a cotton plantation in Alabama. While Miss Katie is kind and intelligent, her husband John is ignorant and abusive, having married her only for her money. Delly is the loyal house slave with a sharp tongue, and she loves Katie and Evie as though they were her own. Evie is the only child of Katie and John, somewhat spoiled, adventurous. Her best friend, born the same night Evie was born, is Essie Mae, her slave girl. The story is about the strength of these four females and their love for each other.

The friendship between Evie and Essie has been kept a secret for several years. But it is their friendship that gets them through the hardest of times – times of violence and expressions of hate. These women save each other time after time. Evie teaches Essie how to dream, and Essie teaches Evie how to be free. The points of view shift from chapter to chapter but it is so well written that it is mostly easy to keep track of who is talking at the time.

The writing throughout most of the book is totally magical. Even the opening seductively draws you in – “A tattered gardening glove lay beneath Miss Katie’s favorite rosebush. It would be hard for her to love it again. Though, magically, those things we once loved that become tainted, often find their way back into our hearts. While nature whispered its secrets in the warm night air, my mother lay in the barn giving birth to me.” A blind man smelling an orange rose says “Smells like sunshine. Smells like smiles. Orange. Beautiful orange.” Another rose is described as “A lemon so sweet, it could not taste sour, with a touch of cream.”

But toward the end of the book there was a period when the writing changed style, as though someone else had written a portion of it. Thankfully, before the end of the book the magical writing reappeared.

As the South nears secession life becomes difficult (and dangerous) for Evie and Essie. Evie is determined to leave her home and goes to Richmond, Virginia where her aunt lives, taking Essie with her.

The story is not always pleasant but it does avoid graphic scenes. While written for adults, this would be the ideal book for middle schoolers and teens.

I received the book from the publishers in a GoodReads promotion. ( )
  BettyTaylor56 | Sep 11, 2015 |
This is a very timely book given the current discussions of race going on in the country right now. It opens in the years before the Civil War on a small plantation in Alabama. It is owned by Katherine Winthrop but she defers to her husband in its running. He is not a very nice man for many a reason but it is time when women were not considered smart enough to do anything but look pretty.

Katherine has a daughter, Evie, and is friendly with her house slave Delly. Delly cares for Essie a child of the plantation. These four female voices tell the story in alternating chapters. Usually this aggravates me but Ms. Muriel writes in four such distinct voices I felt like I was in the space with each one.

Essie and Evie are born on the same night but into very different lives. That doesn’t stop them from finding each other and becoming friends. Life becomes complicated and dangerous as the South secedes and war enters their world. Soon the girls find themselves fleeing the plantation they have always known for Richmond and life changes for them in ways they never could have imagined.

I was pulled into this book from the very first chapter where Essie introduced herself. She is an unforgettable character who is far ahead of her time. In fact all of the characters are very well drawn and uniquely interesting. It’s not always an easy story to read but it is exceptionally well written and it was very hard to put down. I read it in one short before bed start and then finished in one long read the next day. ( )
  BrokenTeepee | Jul 10, 2015 |
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“Impressively well written from beginning to end, "Essie's Roses" is an inherently absorbing and skillfully presented read, establishing author Michelle Muriel as an exceptionally talented novelist.” -Midwest Book Review
added by michellemuriel | editMidwest Book Review (Aug 9, 2015)
"Michelle Muriel’s tremendously impressive debut novel takes place in the Antebellum South and centers on the experiences of four remarkable women: Katherine Winthrop, a sweet-natured woman who comes to find herself the owner of Westland, an Alabama cotton plantation; Delly, her strong-willed house slave and confidant; Evie, Katherine’s daughter, and Essie May, a young slave girl who forms a deep and life-changing friendship with young Evie.

As the two girls grow to young adulthood, the world around them darkens and agitates more and more toward the triggering events of the American Civil War, and when the two travel to Richmond, Virginia, on the eve of war, they are exposed to the worst depravities of a depraved society. Their friendship is tested in several very dramatic ways.

Muriel does an extremely confident job of moving her complex, multi-part novel forward. Her characters are vividly drawn, and the many period details – social, linguistic, and even literary – with which she fleshes out her story never feel forced or melodramatic.

Fans of both Gone with the Wind and Geraldine Brooks’ March will find Essie’s Roses a richly moving reading experience." -Historical Novel Society
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The house appeared tucked in for the night.
Essie Mae, close your eyes. Listen. Breathe. The quiet is where dreams are born.
"Essie Mae, close your eyes. Listen. Breathe. The quiet is where dreams are born."
- Evie Winthrop
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0990938328, Paperback)

Growing up in the Deep South during the years leading to the Civil War, two young girls find freedom on a hillside overlooking Westland, an Alabama plantation. Essie Mae, an intuitive, intelligent slave girl, and Evie Winthrop, the sheltered, imaginative dreamer and planter's daughter, strike up a secret friendship that thrives amidst the shadows of abuse.

Told from the viewpoint of four women: Katherine Winthrop, kind mistress and unexpected heiress to her father's small, cotton plantation; Delly, her sassy and beloved house slave; Essie Mae, her slave girl; and Evie Winthrop, Katherine's only child, Essie's Roses tells of forbidden relationships flourishing in secret behind Westland's protective trees and treasured roses.

After scandal befalls Westland, Evie and Essie, aged nineteen, travel to Richmond, Virginia, to escape their abusive pasts. There, they face the gross indecencies and divisions leading to the War Between the States. Though the horrors of slavery and discrimination prompt action, Evie and Essie's struggles lie within. The secrets they hold and the pain of the past lead them away from one another and back home again.

A story about a black slave who frees a white woman, Essie's Roses reveals the innocence of children's friendships, the diverse meanings of freedom, the significance of a dream, and the power of love. In their efforts to save each other, will the women of Westland find the true freedom they desire?

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 10 Jul 2015 13:18:45 -0400)

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