Set in Mississippi, this novel follows the recollections of a former slave - nicknamed Gran Gran in her old age, named Granada as a child - as she traces her history. As a baby, she was taken from her biological mother and "adopted" by the mistress of the plantation, who'd gone crazy from losing her only daughter to cholera and began to dress Granada up like her daughter and parade her around as a spectacle. Granada was unaware of the fact that she was nothing more than a dressed-up monkey in their eyes. Things change drastically at the plantation when a healer named Polly Shine is bought by the master and Granada is asked to be her apprentice because she has the "gift" in her. Granada hates the fact that she's being removed from the house and moved into slave quarters, where she doesn't feel that she belongs, and she also hates the fact that Polly Shine won't seem to give straight answers about how she works what seems like magic.
This book is so well-written, and it drew me in almost immediately. The descriptions of the plantation, the people who lived there, and the general atmosphere of the time are so vividly imagined that it all easily came alive in my mind. When the author described things, I could practically smell, taste, and hear it all. Pre-Civil War Mississippi definitely came alive in this book. Although the story dealt with slaves and their masters on a plantation, this wasn't a sensational tale filled with abuse or shocking actions; instead, human relationships and day-to-day life were the focus, which made the story all the more vivid and engrossing.
The characters were very well-rounded. Granada is a little flighty and unaware of reality sometimes, but she is young, so it's understandable. Polly Shine is a mystery, not just to the reader but to the other characters, because she seems to have healing powers no one can understand and, thanks to this, is given greater freedom on the plantation than any of the other slaves. It was interesting to see how the slaves reacted to her, some scared of the freedom that she preached about because of what that mindset could bring about, and others excited to finally have a slave who healed and seemed more powerful than they could have imagined.
The only weak spot in the book was near the end, when the main story was wrapped up despite there still being more that could be described, and then it jumps forward in time to give a short run down of all that has happened since the end of the main plot. I would have enjoyed actually "seeing" more of what happened on the plantation, especially following the Emancipation, since the theme of freedom was so prevalent throughout the novel. Still, even with this complaint, this novel was fascinating and incredibly well researched. I'd easily recommend it to others, as it provides a fascinating glimpse of Mississippi history and a good look at how "healers" influenced life on plantations.
I received a free copy of this book through the First Reads program.