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A Sitting in St. James



by
Rita Williams-Garcia

Edition
Hardcover edition
Publisher
HarperCollins
Imprint
Quill Tree
ISBN
9780062367297

Awards and Honors
2021 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction and Poetry Award Winner
POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE AREAS
Language: Strong Language , Language: Infrequent Use , Sexual Content: Contact Between Adult and Minor , Sexual Content: Strong Sexual Content/Themes , Violence: Sexual Assault/Rape , Language: Racial or Ethnic Epithet/Slur , Discrimination: Racial Insensitivity/Racism , Social Issue: Slavery in Historical Context , Violence: Strong Violence , Crime: Against Children
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JLG Category

History High

An unmissable tour de force from three-time National Book Award finalist and Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Rita Williams-Garcia, who memorably tells the stories of one white family and the enslaved people who work for them. Essential reading for teens and adults who are grappling with our country’s history of racism.

This astonishing novel about the interwoven lives of those bound to a plantation in antebellum America is an epic masterwork—empathetic, brutal, and entirely human.

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 indifference, to sit for a portrait.

But there are other important stories to be told on the Guilbert plantation. 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.Bibliographical note.

POTENTIALLY SENSITIVE AREAS
Language: Strong Language , Language: Infrequent Use , Sexual Content: Contact Between Adult and Minor , Sexual Content: Strong Sexual Content/Themes , Violence: Sexual Assault/Rape , Language: Racial or Ethnic Epithet/Slur , Discrimination: Racial Insensitivity/Racism , Social Issue: Slavery in Historical Context , Violence: Strong Violence , Crime: Against Children

Details

Format

Print

Page Count

480

Trim Size

8 3/10" x 5 1/2"

Dewey

F

AR

0: points 0

Genre

Fiction

Scholastic Reading Counts

0

JLG Release

Oct 2021

Book Genres

Historical Fiction

Topics

Slavery. African Americans. Plantation life. History of Louisiana, 1803–1865.  American Civil War era (1861–1865). Antebellum America (1820–1861). Families.

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Cover Art

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Praise & Reviews

School Library Journal

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 Eugénie 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.

Horn Book

Williams-Garcia, whose YA titles include the 1995 classic Like Sisters on the Homefront and Jumped (rev. 3/09), offers a fresh angle on the subject of slavery with this sobering depiction of life on a sugar plantation in Louisiana just prior to the Civil War. In this captivating work, the lives of the white Guilbert family members and their enslaved “holdings” are intimately interwoven in a series of threads that span generations and reveal the social and political boundaries under which the intriguing cast of characters exist and survive. The eighty-year-old Guilbert matriarch, Madame Sylvie, insists (despite financial hardship) on sitting for a portrait in her efforts to retain a connection to the past. Her son and nemesis, Lucien, the manager of the plantation, schemes to avoid foreclosure. His son, essentially engaged to the daughter of a wealthy planter, is in love with a fellow West Point cadet. A young family friend spends the summer because her mother hopes the Guilberts will cure her of her rebellious ways. Among the enslaved teenagers on the plantation who are subjected to cruelty and dismissiveness as a way of everyday life are Madame Sylvie’s personal servant Thisbe and Lucien’s “quadroon” daughter Rosalie, who is viewed sometimes as family member, sometimes as property. In this sweeping, richly researched, and powerfully delivered tale of privilege and exploitation—often a difficult read—Williams-Garcia’s storytelling is sophisticated, and her voice is honest and authentic. Back matter includes an author’s note and a bibliography. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

Praise & Reviews

School Library Journal

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 Eugénie 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.

Horn Book

Williams-Garcia, whose YA titles include the 1995 classic Like Sisters on the Homefront and Jumped (rev. 3/09), offers a fresh angle on the subject of slavery with this sobering depiction of life on a sugar plantation in Louisiana just prior to the Civil War. In this captivating work, the lives of the white Guilbert family members and their enslaved “holdings” are intimately interwoven in a series of threads that span generations and reveal the social and political boundaries under which the intriguing cast of characters exist and survive. The eighty-year-old Guilbert matriarch, Madame Sylvie, insists (despite financial hardship) on sitting for a portrait in her efforts to retain a connection to the past. Her son and nemesis, Lucien, the manager of the plantation, schemes to avoid foreclosure. His son, essentially engaged to the daughter of a wealthy planter, is in love with a fellow West Point cadet. A young family friend spends the summer because her mother hopes the Guilberts will cure her of her rebellious ways. Among the enslaved teenagers on the plantation who are subjected to cruelty and dismissiveness as a way of everyday life are Madame Sylvie’s personal servant Thisbe and Lucien’s “quadroon” daughter Rosalie, who is viewed sometimes as family member, sometimes as property. In this sweeping, richly researched, and powerfully delivered tale of privilege and exploitation—often a difficult read—Williams-Garcia’s storytelling is sophisticated, and her voice is honest and authentic. Back matter includes an author’s note and a bibliography. PAULETTA BROWN BRACY

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