Monday, January 15, 2018

The Courage to Continue: "The Mapmaker's Children" by Sarah McCoy

The Civil War of the United States is a subject that, to this day, is very polarized.  As a teenager growing up in eastern Montana, I had a fairly unbiased curriculum of the Civil War at school. The North won, the South lost, Lincoln was shot, slavery ended, here's the final exam and have a nice day. It wasn't until I started college in southern Virginia that I realized just how polar the win or loss debate was for people.  When I arrived in 2001 I was quickly shown that I had been taught the most bland version of how the Civil War transpired. You mean "Gone With The Wind" wasn't an accurate portrayal?? If you wanted to know how people felt about it in southern Virginia you could go to the local coffee shop, the post office or Walmart and they'd be fixin' to tell you their version of the story and then some. Everybody had their opinion on the war.  It was a cultural experience like no other.

Because of this unique cultural experience I decided to take an elective course on the Civil War that drastically changed my perspective. I was fascinated by the political philosophies of both sides of the war and I have to admit I understood why the South seceded.  That's not saying that I condoned it, but I could see their point. One of the most incredible aspects of the Civil War were the efforts of female spies (for both sides) as well as those involved with the Underground Railroad. And this, my reading friends, is where we land with "The Mapmaker's Children" by Sarah McCoy.    

This book was thrifted a couple years ago and has been sitting in the cozy book nook gathering dust ever since. I couldn't remember why I had purchased it in the first place.  Never a good sign. However, there was one aspect of the book that made me hold on to it.  The magical writing style of parallel worlds.  It is my FAVORITE. Like favoritest of favorites.  What exactly does that mean for the common person who doesn't understand my crazy Ray speak? It means two completely different plot lines that are presented in alternating chapters and everything is tied up tight and connected at the end.  If it's done well by an author it can cause fireworks in my brain.  This book was just such a book. It tugged at my heartstrings for a number of really personal reasons and reminded me why I dearly loved living in the South in the heart of Civil War country.

In this book we have two main characters: a Civil War woman living in New Charlestown, WV named Sarah Brown and a modern day woman named Eden Anderson also living New Charlestown, WV.  Their link? A house.  That sounds pretty simple right? It is, but all the stuff in the middle, the "between the lines" over the span of 200 years is quite complicated.

The book opens with Sarah Brown being told that she will never be able to have children. There's the bomb dropped real quick. In the first 10 pages of the book I felt a sense of empathy and compassion for this woman.  I can't even imagine the pain and heartache that came with finding out that a woman was infertile in the 19th century.  Having children was an absolute no-go at that point for Sarah.  They didn't have other options for her to consider or explore.  Because of this news Sarah seeks out methods to channel her pain and sorrow while having an impact on humanity in more non-traditional ways.

Eden's story opens up with her fair share of distress.  Her marriage is rocky, she's a city girl in a small town world and she has recently had her second pregnancy miscarriage and told it's unlikely she'll be able to carry a child full-term.  She is a mess and so lost emotionally. In an effort to calm down after all the trauma, she and her husband purchase a historical home in a quaint West Virginia town.  She's not convinced that this is going to help her calm down and maybe miraculously get and stay pregnant so she is constantly wrestling with the idea of giving up on the house and her marriage and running back to the city. 

As the reader is introduced to both of these women, it is evident they share something really important, but we don't know what for a few chapters.  Obviously their life struggles are similar with infertility, lost relationships and death but they are from two different eras.  So, what's the connection?

Before I get much further, I should point out that Sarah Brown was an actual person.  She lived a fascinating life and was instrumental in the freedom of hundreds of slaves. Her father was one of the pioneering individuals of the Underground Railroad long before the war started.  As a result he was executed for treason and his family continued the Underground Railroad efforts in his absence.  Sarah had an amazing talent of making beautiful maps that had symbols to represent key points for slaves on the run.

In the book she discovers that her maps can be drawn on almost any surface and subsequently gets very creative in how these maps are delivered to slaves.  There is a lot of emotion in the pages of this book and you can feel the nerves of the danger that accompanied the mission of the Underground Railroad.  Sarah had the courage to continue and she did whatever it took to carry on her father's mission after his untimely death.

Eden befriends a sweet neighbor girl named Cleo and they start to spend a lot of time together building a new business.  Throughout these conversations between a precocious young girl and a sad, lonely woman, we start to learn about the details of Eden's life and why it is so hard for her to deal with infertility.  In an unexpected way, Cleo and Eden, start to heal together and it gives Eden more courage to continue in learning about the historical home she lives in and the special town where it is located.  The house is most certainly the connecting force to Eden and Sarah, but I'm not going to give away any of those details because they are WAY fun to read.

This book had me wanting more, but I was also so happy and satisfied with the ending for both characters.  It's such a sweet ending and I felt like the author gave all the characters an appropriate amount of page time to tie up their conflicts.  It bugs the hell out of me when authors take too much time writing all the fluff and then tie it up in a single "a year later" chapter. That's how writers keep the publisher happy by staying within their page number limit, but don't have to re-write the whole book.  A good author will be able to do it throughout the book and leave the reader satisfied with the final sentence.

My recommended reading group would be age 13 and above.  The subject matter is clean and inspirational, but still addresses some tough realities that surround infertility, death and working through challenges in marriage and relationships.

The Moral of the Story: Many times the most unexpected way of channeling our sorrows leads to the most beneficial and wonderful blessings that we never knew we needed until we had them.

Happy reading, my amazing, geeky lovelies!

Other Books by Sarah McCoy

Missed last week's book review? Click here to read it!


  1. Wow, that sounds like a fascinating read!!

  2. Your book reviews are so interesting. Really makes me want to read it!!
    I was born & raised in France, and we don't learn about the American Civil War at school.
    I just studied it a bit in college but it was brief - just like you described it in your introduction.

  3. I love books like these, so I can't wait to read this! Your book reviews really are so interesting and in-depth. They're much better than my book reviews are haha! I definitely could learn a thing or two from you. Thanks for your insightful posts. Keep it up!

  4. I enjoyed this review so much, I need to get my hands on a copy of this book because it sounds like it would make a great read!

  5. I loved this review!! I not much of an avid reader anymore, but when I was little I used to love these types of historical books. You definitely have me convinced to put this on my reading list!

  6. Good review. You seem to have got to the heart of the story.