The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
Pub. Date: May 5, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Crown!!)
Summary: When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.
Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.
Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction
Recommended for: Readers interested in a closer look at the Underground Railroad, fans of dual narratives and eras
If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know I kind of have a thing for Civil War novels. Whether it sides with the Blue or the Gray, I’m there. That said, it wasn’t until I came across Sarah McCoy’s The Mapmaker’s Children that I realized I had yet to read one that focused on the Underground Railroad. Before we get into things I have a confession to make: unless it’s something really special (looking at you, The Accidental Empress) I typically don’t pick up review copies until a month or so before their publish date – if that. Some review copies I literally wait until the very last minute to read or I don’t even get to them until after they’ve been released. With The Mapmaker’s Children, however, I was so excited and curious I read it in March, a full two months early (I’m in awe of reviewers who tackle books six, seven months in advance – how do you do it??) Two months is practically unheard of for me and I’m thrilled to say I wasn’t let down!
The Mapmaker’s Children focuses on two story lines (in two eras – my all-time favorite) – the present day’s Eden and 1860’s Sarah. Eden and her husband recently moved to the picturesque town of New Charleston and into a grand house on Apple Hill Lane. Despite the fairy tale setting around them, their reality isn’t quite so charming. After years of unsuccessfully trying to have a baby their marriage has deteriorated to the point where Jack has started sleeping in the guest room and Eden is seriously considering a divorce. Head back home, hopefully get her job back, and move on with her life.
All of that changes the day Eden discovers a small root cellar. Or, rather, what was inside the root cellar: a porcelain doll’s head. The house dates back to the Civil War – could this doll’s head have been hidden away for over a hundred years? With the help of spunky 10-year-old Cleo, Eden begins to uncover the secrets it holds…and maybe make a batch of organic dog treats in the process.
150 years earlier, Sarah Brown’s father is sentenced to death. The famous (or infamous) John Brown has made waves with his outspoken opinions on abolition and slavery and the South has decided to put an end to it. As a child, Sarah learned she would never be able to have children, meaning she would never find a husband. Desperate for something to fill the void inside her, Sarah turned to art. One night, long after she should have been in bed, Sarah overheard a whispered conversation her father was having with two runaway slaves, murmuring instructions and directions. Easily recalling the landscape, Sarah quickly drew up a map and suddenly found herself a part of the Underground Railroad. With John Brown’s death, Sarah knew she needed to carry on his work. Her maps became more elaborate – and more secretive, turning the most commonplace objects into detailed pictures.
The Mapmaker’s Children is a slim thing at exactly 300 pages, but those pages pack a punch. The Underground Railroad; a web of secrets; Eden’s broken marriage; a dog; Cleo’s home life; an organic dog food business; a potential romance for Sarah – there’s so much going on here, but it all works. With alternating chapters, each story is given a chance to shine and I’m finding it hard to talk about everything I want to mention!
It would be easy to say read it and call it a day, but that’s not entirely fair. It doesn’t do this book justice and I’m struggling to get my thoughts in order. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I had assumed this was a debut novel. It wasn’t until heading over to GoodReads that I realized Sarah also wrote The Baker’s Daughter, a novel I’ve seen countless times at work. Whoops! Sorry Sarah! Having finished The Mapmaker’s Children I’m more than eager for another McCoy novel, so happy day for me!
If you enjoy your Historical Fiction heavy on the history, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Mapmaker’s Children. Not only is it a quick read, it’s a compelling read and I found myself genuinely caring for these characters and the decisions they were making. Bonus points for having a recipe in the back! You too can whip up your own organic dog treats.
As an added note, Sarah popped in for a bit during the #HistoricalFix chat! She’s a lovely woman and I’m even more starry-eyed now that I had a chance to chat with her!