Book Review: America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

25817162Title: America’s First Daughter

Author: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Genre: Historical, Historical Fiction, American Literature, Fiction

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Published: March 1, 2016

Page Amount: 580 pages

Blurb From GoodreadsIn a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

Why Read: If you listen to my podcast, you’ll be aware of how much Rebecca has raved about America’s First Daughter. So when I boarded my long flight to South Africa, I was beyond ready to dive in. After I finished The Devlin Diary, I cracked my knuckles and opened America’s First Daughter. While it is a fictionalised account of Patsy (Martha) Jefferson’s life, the text reads like a auto-biography- and I was sucked in the second I started.

Review: Where do I begin… I’m at once torn between taking you through the emotional journey I went through while reading this and trying to be more objective. From the first second I opened the book, I didn’t want to stop. The prose was captivating, and continued to compel me to read non-stop until I was finished (despite how tired I was). It’s written in first-person from Patsy’s point of view, and we watch how she grows up in the shadow of the Revolutionary War until her crowning moment as America’s First Daughter (instead of a Lady). It’s both heartening and tragic, as any life is – except that Patsy’s contributions to her country and her family approach something regarding sainthood.

My emotional state throughout this book: I just want Patsy to be happy.

The cast of characters show a varied mix, from Thomas Jefferson’s enigmatic fatherhood style towards Patsy’s own development concerning slavery and the revolutionary happenings in France. The books also follows her love life, starting with a young employee of Thomas Jefferson to her long-term husband, Tom Randolph. What, perhaps though, is more difficult to read about is the sad fate of so many in the Jefferson family. Reading about their financial problems followed by too many episodes of domestic abuse is challenging to read. I found myself teary-eyed on the plane as Ann, Patsy’s daughter, went back again and again to her abusive husband. In particular, watching characters who you love and adore fall towards drink and sadder fates is beyond sad.

Another prevalent theme was Patsy choosing her father over everything else: her love life, her husband, her family and sometimes even herself. She made a (fictionalised) promise to her mother upon her death that she would always look out for him, especially when he was unwilling or unable to do it himself. While Thomas was a founding father (and smart, let’s not forget), he was also dramatic and emotional to a fault – drawing much debt and scandal upon himself and his family (Sally…). I want Patsy to be happy, and in essence: she does have to choose between her father/America and everyone else. As the reader, you know what’s going to happen if you know a bit about revolutionary history. Watching the tragedies upon tragedies fall upon the Jefferson family was a hard process, but it’s worth it for the book. It may be a fictionalised account: but it doesn’t feel like it. So regardless of whether you like history or you like well-created characters, you will like this book. It’s a must-must-must-read for 2016. So go ahead and get ready for an emotional ride.

Rating: Infinity/5 Stars

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