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A Sitting in St. James
Cover of A Sitting in St. James
A Sitting in St. James
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Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award!7 starred reviews! "Monumental." —Booklist (starred review) * "A marathon masterpiece."—Kirkus (starred review) * "Necessary."—SLJ (starred...
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award!7 starred reviews! "Monumental." —Booklist (starred review) * "A marathon masterpiece."—Kirkus (starred review) * "Necessary."—SLJ (starred...
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Description-

  • Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award!

    7 starred reviews! "Monumental." —Booklist (starred review) * "A marathon masterpiece."—Kirkus (starred review) * "Necessary."—SLJ (starred review) * "Shocking and dramatic."—Shelf Awareness (starred review) * "Mesmerizing, confounding and vividly rendered."—Book Page (starred review) * "Williams-Garcia's storytelling is magnificent; her voice honest and authentic."—Horn Book (starred review)

    This astonishing novel from three-time National Book Award finalist Rita Williams-Garcia about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human—and essential reading for both teens and adults grappling with the long history of American racism.

    1860, Louisiana. After serving as mistress of Le Petit Cottage for more than six decades, Madame Sylvie Guilbert has decided, in spite of her family's objections, to sit for a portrait.

    While Madame plots her last hurrah, stories that span generations—from the big house to out in the fields—of routine horrors, secrets buried as deep as the family fortune, and the tangled bonds of descendants and enslaved, come to light to reveal a true portrait of the Guilberts.


 

Awards-

About the Author-

  • Rita Williams-Garcia's Newbery Honor Book, One Crazy Summer, was a winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award, a National Book Award finalist, the recipient of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and a New York Times bestseller. The two sequels, P.S. Be Eleven and Gone Crazy in Alabama, were both Coretta Scott King Author Award winners and ALA Notable Children's Books. Her novel Clayton Byrd Goes Underground was a National Book Award finalist and winner of the NAACP Image Award for Youth/Teen Literature. Rita is also the author of five other distinguished novels for young adults: Jumped, a National Book Award finalist; No Laughter Here, Every Time a Rainbow Dies (a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book), Fast Talk on a Slow Track (all ALA Best Books for Young Adults); and Blue Tights. Rita Williams-Garcia lives in Jamaica, New York, with her husband and has two adult daughters. You can visit her online at www.ritawg.com.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 5, 2021
    The history of a white plantation-owning family dominates this substantial portrait of antebellum slavery by Newbery Honoree Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer). Forced to marry a middle-aged planter or risk death at the French Revolution’s start, Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert is now the 80-year-old mistress of a failing plantation. Presiding over Le Petit Cottage in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, Madame Sylvie insists upon sitting for a painting—“an obligation to the legacy of the family”—despite its cost. Aiming to keep the estate afloat while catering to his mother’s traditions, her syphilitic son connives to marry off his children. Twined with the Guilbert family’s past are the histories of the enslaved people they exploit in the 1860s, including 16-year-old multilingual Thisbe, personal servant to Madame Sylvie. This provoking history unsparingly centers the brutalization of its Black characters, including manifold instances of beatings, sexual assault, and slurs. If the telling dramatizes harmful philosophies and queer pain, it also offers an unvarnished look at a slowly toppling power structure obsessed with artifice and tradition, hinting through a notably long-view lens that new generations may, slowly and not without suffering, move away from antiquated ideology. Ages 16–up. (May)

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from May 1, 2021

    Gr 9 Up-In 1860, Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert rules Le Petit Cottage in the St. James Parish region of Louisiana with an iron fist. She is disappointed in her son, Lucien, who is experiencing financial woes in operating the plantation. She denies the existence and presence of her mixed-race granddaughter, Rosalie, whom she forbids in her home. She places all her hope in her white grandson, Byron, to continue their royal French bloodline and inherit their family vineyard in France. She suspects Byron is in love with fellow West Point cadet Robinson Pearce so she sets up his engagement to Eug�nie Duhon. She abuses her enslaved girl Thisbe into total silence at her beck and call. She assumes etiquette lessons for tomboyish Jane Chatham, a planter's daughter who is uninterested in womanhood and focuses all her energies on her horse, Virginia Wilder, and the amount of meat in her meals. She looks forward to sitting for a portrait. However, her Old-World mindset begins to erode beyond her control. This is a wonderful character-driven novel as stories of the enslaved and the slaveowners are simultaneously told. Williams-Garcia does an excellent job in taking readers through France's colonial and revolutionary histories and their impact on Louisiana's development as a New World outpost. VERDICT This novel is a necessary purchase for conversations about slavery's legacy in the Black Lives Matter era.-Donald Peebles, Brooklyn P.L.

    Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from March 15, 2021
    An unblinking view into plantation life in the Deep South. At first glance this epic seems to be focused on the ups and downs of the Guilbert family, slaveholders living in the Louisiana parish of St. James whose legacy is protected by 80-year-old matriarch Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert. However, Williams-Garcia doesn't stop in the salons and sitting rooms; she brings readers into the cabins and cookhouses of enslaved people whose perceived invisibility gives them access to ideas and knowledge that empower them in ways that few fiction writers have examined. Sixteen-year-old Thisbe is the personal servant to Madame Guilbert--treated like a pet and beaten with a hairbrush for the smallest alleged slight. Her narrative to liberation is intricately webbed within the story of the Guilberts. Thisbe's silence helps her acquire the language to affirm her humanity to those who would deny it. With a cast of characters whose assorted genealogies feel like an ode to the mixing of peoples and cultures in Louisiana, this story broadens and emboldens interrogations of U.S. chattel slavery. Williams-Garcia's meticulous research processes shout volumes about the importance of taking contemporary inspiration into the archives to unearth sorely needed truths as we continue to navigate questions of equity and justice for the descendants of enslaved people. A marathon masterpiece that shares a holistic portrait of U.S. history that must not be dismissed or forgotten. (author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 15-adult)

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from March 1, 2021
    Grades 10-12 *Starred Review* The year is 1860, and Madame Sylvie Guilbert of La Petite Cottage in Louisiana is hell-bent on sitting for a portrait--it's the least she expects after the life she has been forced to live. Having no luck in securing her own social and financial standing, she instead has spent her time working to ensure the futures of her son and grandson, who have their own plans and desires, which have ultimately resulted in the demise of their family's land. Together, three generations of Guilberts work against the backdrop of their family plantation, where stories of the big house and the fields alike are unveiled, revealing the not-so-segregated reality of Guilbert's expansive family. Equal parts history and tantalizing, chaotic drama, Williams-Garcia's stunning novel delivers a fresh and nuanced approach to the tale of American slavery, which directly asks white folks, "Who were you without enslaved people and slavery? What are you without racism?" This shift away from the brutalization and abuse of Black bodies does not lessen the perceived severity of slavery, but, rather, focuses on the burgeoning American (read: white) identity and the tensions amid various cultural, regional, and national divides. Though the subject matter is particularly heavy at times (including descriptions of rape), as a whole, this is compelling in its ability to wrap readers in rich threads of family, romance, and the vibrant history of Creole Louisiana, and the depth of its characters will occupy space in readers' minds well beyond the final page. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling, award-winning Williams-Garcia's return to YA, particularly with a book as monumental as this, is definite cause for celebration.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • AudioFile Magazine Machelle Williams skillfully narrates this sprawling story of generational secrets in antebellum Louisiana. La Petite Cottage plantation is home to three generations of Guilberts, as well as the enslaved people who make their lifestyle possible. The family matriarch's decision to sit for her portrait begins a chain of events that will upend everyone's fortunes. Williams weaves a hypnotic spell, pulling the listener along to meet the huge cast of characters and hear their tangled stories. Williams's deliberate pace, which might otherwise frustrate listeners, is kept lively by her shrewdly observed character voices. Chief among them is the exquisitely sharp tongue of imperious Madame Sylvie, mistress of the plantation. Williams makes clear the intricate language switching common to Creole Louisiana among both enslavers and the enslaved. N.M. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award � AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine

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