Sara's Reviews > The Secrets of Mary Bowser

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen
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's review
May 15, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2015, adult-fiction, historical-fiction
Read from May 01 to 03, 2015

This book is based on a real person, Mary Bowser, who spied for the Union while posing as a slave in the Confederate White House. Without much actual documentation about the real Mary Bowser's life, the author rounded out her story with imagination and wrote this book from Mary's childhood as a slave in Richmond, being freed and sent to Philadelphia for education, and then her return to Richmond to be with her family and ultimately helping the Union cause by posing as a slave again.

I really enjoyed this book! There was such great attention to detail, and I found Mary's life fascinating. The book includes a note from the author mentioning what was real and what was imagined, and I found the story even more fascinating to know that it was indeed based on a true story. Of course, the fact that details about Mary's real life aren't known meant that the author had much leeway to create interesting scenes, making this book more engrossing than it might otherwise have been.

I found the characters in here to be very well done. There were so many shades of personalities in here and so many different levels of understanding and acceptance when it came to slaves, race, the Civil War, etc. I found it quite believable and thoughtful that things weren't simply black and white; people had their own opinions, and not everyone who was "good" in here was perfect. Slaveholders, for example, weren't all "evil" - far from it. And slaves weren't all perfect or even necessarily good people. Everyone was simply human. It made for a really nice balance.

A number of real-life people factored into this book at times. Jefferson Davis and his wife played large roles near the end, and even President Lincoln made an appearance. I felt like these scenes were handled nicely, for the most part, and did not take over the rest of the story, which was good. The focus was always on Mary and her life.

The story in here moved forward nicely. The author did a good job moving the story forward through time (this book covered many years!) and I liked seeing the changes that Mary went through, externally and internally. The main story in this book seemed to mainly just be about Mary's life, not necessarily a story about her spying for the Union, since the spy part only took place in the last third or so of the book. Because of that, this was a quieter book than it might otherwise have been, but it also kept the book fairly realistic for the most part.

I think the quiet nature of this book will keep some people from wanting to read it, but I do think it was a very solid book overall. This is quality historical fiction and would make for good reading for anyone interested in lives during the Civil War.

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05/09/2015 marked as: read

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