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3.34  ·  Rating details ·  1,224 ratings  ·  241 reviews
The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life.

Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others’ suffering, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.

Sadie can commune with the dea
Hardcover, 269 pages
Published May 26th 2015 by Amistad (first published May 12th 2015)
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Average rating 3.34  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,224 ratings  ·  241 reviews

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Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Gorgeously written. Such growth between Wench and Balm. The overall story could have been fuller and more throughly realized. Interesting structure. Madge and Hemp were such compelling characters. And my god. On a sentence level the writing was perfect. Satisfying. Enviable. Bravo.
May 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
I’ve read books dealing with slavery and the emancipation of the slaves after the American Civil War. I’ve read books dealing with traditional herbalists from a variety of cultures. I’ve also read books that deal with trance mediums who can contact the spirits of the dead. Yet I’ve never read a book that focused on all three of these themes. Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is that book. I received two copies of this book for free in return for this review. They are a paperback ARC directly from the ...more
I Be Reading
Mar 31, 2015 marked it as abandoned
I am really sad to say this because I absolutely loved "Wench", but I am abandoning "Balm" about halfway through. The storyline is boring, I don't really care about any of the characters, it's just a dud. And I have a personal rule that I will not waste my time on books that are not compelling to me, no matter how far along I am. Oh well, maybe better luck next time.
Raven Haired Girl
Jan 30, 2015 added it
Shelves: 2015
A complex and intelligent story of grief and healing. Perkins-Valdez crafts three different characters along with their struggles into one edgy narrative. Blending paranormal with historical elements exceptionally done.

Madge freeborn, possessing a gift of healing via her hands and her knowledge of herbs. Seeking the love, approval and acceptance of her mother served as her driving force. Independent, determined to successfully capitalize from her gifts.

Sadie a Civil War widow, a medium hearing
Noa Bash
May 27, 2015 rated it liked it

I actually have no idea what to think about this book. It was pretty good at some parts, and at others I was completely bored. This book took me way to long to read for a book that was under 300 pages. I don't know whether it was the slow plot or the writing style that made me shy away from this book, but it just didn't seem to work for me.

My main grievance with this book was the pacing. I found it to be slow during most of the book. I don't have a problem with a slow book since one
Feb 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: readharder2016
High four star review, that I might bump up later if this book really sticks with me. This book follows three characters in Chicago after the Civil War. Lots about feminism and race here, thoughtfully done, though there's one thing about Hemp's storyline I'm still not sure about. There's also a good dose of paranormal in this book as well. I will definitely read her other novel now. I feel this book is underrated, and deserves more attention than what I've seen it get.

It stuck with m
Read In Colour
It's really closer to a 3.5, but Goodreads. I would have given it a four, but it lost its momentum in the last third of the book. Overall, a really good read though.
Claire Barfell
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book!!! I was fortunate to win an Advanced Reader's copy from Goodreads. Even though this is a fiction book, the author thoroughly researched many facts in the story. The story takes us back to the end of the Civil War and three characters: Hemp, Sadie and Madge. I grew to really care about them and was anxious to know their stories and what happened to them. I want to read the author's first book "Wench." Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a Harvard graduate and a truly wonderful writer!
Daphne James
Jan 04, 2016 rated it liked it
This book was a bit difficult to follow. Enjoyed "Wench" much more.
May 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
I didn't care for this book as much as "Wench". Just an ok read for me and I wanted to like it, but it felt disjointed at times. I will read more of this author despite my thoughts on this one.

From Amazon:
The New York Times bestselling author of Wench returns to the Civil War era to explore the next chapter of history—the trauma of the War and the end of slavery—in this powerful story of love and healing about three people who struggle to overcome the pain of the past and def
Oct 08, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first thing that hits you is the___________ prose. Insert there any positive adjective concerning prose that we all have read hundreds of time. I honestly couldn't come up with one that hasn't been overused, thus the blank. So, she certainly has a way with words and takes a blasé story, makes it interesting enough to engage a reader. Although, I didn't really care much for the story, the main characters are well developed and the fable well told. It's a story of people in search of something ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the story of three individuals attempting to make a life for themselves and move forward from the past, after the Civil War. Madge is leaving behind the love that she never received from her mother, Sadie is attempting to make a life for herself that does not involve the husband that she never wanted, and Hemp is attempting to find the wife that was sold off and make amends to her for the wrong that he had done.

All three stories were of great interest. The beginning was kind
May 29, 2015 rated it liked it
When a debut novel is AMAZING, I am always nervous to read the follow up book from the same author. Hence I started reading Balm with a bit of trepidation. I love Wench so much and had similar high hopes for this book. The writing in Balm was amazing. Ms. Perkins-Valdez is a genius with words. Sadly though, I just couldn't care about the plot or its characters as much as I wanted, and I love myself a good migration story. I think if the book focused on Madge and Hemp and their lives I would have ...more
Jun 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Reading this was like immersing myself in a vat of viscous poetry: delicious, thick and at times barely breatheable. Perkins-Valdez really captures a sense of the time period and the precarious status of both women and Blacks as they navigate the post-civil war universe. The ghosts and the inexplicable healings only add to the magical mysticism of the main characters.

I've included a few sentences below just to give you an idea of her lyrical language.

Yet those awe-inspiri
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
While this novel has an interesting plotline, it is often boring. The formula used to tell the story didn't help.


1. Begin the story of one of the three main characters.
2. Trudge through a Neverending Story-like swamp of tedium.
3. Get rescued by a interesting luck dragon (that is, the story picks up).
4. Just as you are becoming engrossed in the story, the nothing jumps out at you, growls "Time for a different character" and you begin your trudge a
Susan Coster
Oct 15, 2015 rated it liked it
I'd like to give this 3-1/2 stars if I could. This is a short novel set in Civil War era Chicago. Madge, from West Tennessee, has been ostracized by her sisters and mother, and moves to Chicago where she is spotted by a widow walking through fire. Madge is a root healer and Sadie, a young widow speaks to spirits, and thus, the two of them live together through thick and thin....
May 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Read this novel in one sitting, because it kept me so engrossed in the story. Perkins-Valdez moves effortlessly between voices and uses the historical time period to not only reveal the hardships the characters had to face due to race/class, but also exposes how it adds complexity to the development of their identities and sense of family.
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016-read
Balm is a well written story of grief and healing.
I enjoyed the storyline and thought the characters were well developed.
The story started out a little slow for me , then picked up and slow again , like a rotation.
I keep reading and glad I did because overall the story was very good

Chantelle Walker
Jun 23, 2016 rated it liked it
I struggled to finish this honestly, really struggled. The story just wasn't compelling enough. I hoped for more after reading Wench
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
SO GOOD. Real review to come soon.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

31. [Balm] by [[Dolen Perkins-Valdez]]

The Civil War has ended, and three very different people make their way to the booming prairie city of Chicago in hopes of finding a better life. Sadie has arrived from York, Pennsylvania, to join the much older husband chosen by her father, only to find Samuel's body in the parlor, one of the victims of a train derailment. For Sadie, his death brings freedom: she didn't love him, is happy to leave the parent who would marry her off for money to save his book-binding business
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Wow wow wow. Cannot recommend this one enough!
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating to me from the first paragraph all the way through to the last page (which came too soon). The theme of forgiveness is woven through the lives of each of its characters whose paths cross in Chicago just after the Civil War. My favorite character was Madge, a black woman who was born free in a family of rural herbalist women in Kentucky. Forgiveness was the necessary key to healing and finding oneself in this tale. Self-forgiveness. Forgiveness of those who had hurt or w ...more
Stephanie Ward
3.5 Stars

'Balm' is an enchanting historical fiction novel that explores the lengths people will go to find happiness and love, along with the deep topics of grief, loss, love, discovering who you are as a person, and find those dear to you whom you thought were long gone. The novel tells the story of three separate main characters - Madge, Sadie, and Hemp. On the surface, these three people have nothing really in common - but underneath they are all the same, learning the same diffic
Sarah Beth
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
I received an advance reader's edition of this book from HarperCollins.

Where her first novel, Wench, was about the tragedy of the Civil War for those living through it, Balm is about the slow process of recovery after the war and "how the war was the vehicle through which we found our voice as a nation." This novel focuses on three individuals that are end up in Chicago at the end of the war and whose lives intersect. Madge was raised a free black by three sisters who healed from a living. Sadie finds he
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Balm, the second novel from Dolen Perkins-Valdez (after the critically acclaimed Wench, published in 2010), is a rich, rewarding work of historical literary fiction. I would recommend it with confidence to readers whose interest is stimulated by the description of the plot and themes The author presents the perspectives of her.

The novel charts the journey of three different characters as they pursue their futures as newcomers to the city of the Chicago and achieve resolution of critical persona
May 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Synopsis: After the Civil War, Madge, Sadie and Hemp move to Chicago to start a new life. Madge has a power to heal the suffering of others and Sadie has the power to commune with the dead. Because of personal struggles neither can fully engage their powers enough to be useful. Hemp comes to Chicago because of the promise for a better life but instead the three battle for survival.<
Nov 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Ever since I read Wench, I have been itching to get my hands on another story by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Balm relates the story of two women in post Civil War America, the widow Sadie, and Madge, an African-American woman that is hired by Sadie. Both women are healers in their own right. Sadie, haunted by the voice of a young soldier, makes her living by conducting séances to the mourners who line up outside her door. Madge sells salves and herbs to tend to the physical wounds that war has ravaged on their bodies.

Balm is an
R.K. Johnson
Jun 19, 2015 rated it liked it
My Goodness! Ms. Dolen Perkins-Valdez has done it again; tickling us with her literary feathers.

What a slow, hypnotic read. I found myself stretching into these precious moments in time. I liked all the characters, especially Madge, the spitfire beauty who was also very tender and sweet. I love it when authors create characters who are as contradictory as we are in real life.

I have had the privilege of meeting this author on a few occasions and she is such a sweet-hearted
Wall-to-wall books - wendy
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love books that follow what happened after the war. This book was very interesting in parts but pretty slow in parts too, if it wasn't for that I would have given it 5 stars. But it did stay just good enough to keep me happy.

I love ghost stories so the fact that one of the main characters was channeling a civil war ghost was the highlight of the book for me. I also loved that the other main character was a healer. Those two things and the fact that this was a historical fiction wa
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Fiction Lover's B...: * Balm, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez 1 4 Dec 21, 2015 01:07PM  
Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 4 Jun 23, 2015 12:18PM  

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Dolen Perkins-Valdezs fiction and essays have appeared or will appear in The Kenyon Review, StoryQuarterly, African American Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, North Carolina Literary Review, Richard Wright Newsletter, and SLI: Studies in Literary Imagination. She is a 2009 finalist for the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Award. A graduate of Harvard and a former University of California Presidents Postdoct ...more
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