I love it when fiction books make bits of history that always seemed so boring come to life. I will admit that I will almost always choose a book about the Civil War over a book about Reconstruction EVERY SINGLE TIME, even though you could probably say that Reconstruction is Civil War history as it happened because of the Civil War. Regardless. A.B. Westrick really impressed me with her debut middle grade novel Brotherhood, a book set in post-Civil War Richmond, Virginia. It does a great job capturing the different factors and sentiments of the South at the time and just, I don’t know, it makes the era seem so interesting.
Shad is a 13 year old boy who works for his grandfather’s tailor business. He lives with his mother and his brother Jeremiah. Y’all, that Jeremiah is a bad apple and mean to Shad. However, you have to think, no one in this family has it easy and there are obviously a lot of resentments. First off, they are so poor that they wear burlap sacks for clothes and don’t have shoes. Second, their father died in the Civil War in Gettysburg. Also? Shad can’t read. OH and Jeremiah can’t seem to find a job.
OH AND the Yankees are all over the streets and they basically are rubbing the South’s loss in it’s face. In reaction to the powerlessness that they feel, Shad and Jeremiah join a Brotherhood, the Ku Klux Klan. Meanwhile, Shad ends up meeting a freedwoman named Rachel who works for a rich family and who ends up giving Shad reading lessons in exchange to him giving former slave children lessons in tailoring. Of course, this is at odds with Shad’s night time activities with the KKK. In Westrick’s novel, this will all come to a head.
Shad Weaver is one of those main characters that is difficult to stomach at first because he is a product of his time. He thinks some pretty awful and horrifying things about people of color. He seems to expect the shuck and jive from literally every Black person he comes across and as a 21st century reader, that is hard to take. HOWEVER. He learns some pretty powerful lessons in the book. It is a long and slow journey, but Brotherhood by AB Westrick shows how Shadrach is redeemed. It shows that someone can go from being very ignorant and just plain WRONG to actually questioning the things that they have been sold. Is Shad tolerant and not a racist at the end of the book? No, but he makes some progress and it makes sense for the setting and the time frame of the story. It is not like he is from an abolitionist family, but from a family of poor whites during the Reconstruction era. His character makes perfect sense, if you know what I mean.
I really liked how AB Westrick weaved in history. She includes things like the Freedman’s Bureau. She uses carpetbagger as a derogatory term. We see the motivations of people joining the KKK, basically to protect the Southern widows and as an outlet for all this resentment over not being able to subjugate other human beings and feeling powerless. It’s just interesting to me, as a reader, to think about what people who are completely different from me in basically everything were feeling during Reconstruction.
Look, if you want to read a book that is going to bring history to life, that is going to provide an unflinching and unapologetic look at the racism of an era and the WHY of it, you need a copy of Brotherhood by AB Westrick. It is a fascinating read with some morally ambiguous characters in tough situations. I actually really, really recommend this book to any fan of historical fiction. Just note, there is zero romance going on here. So, don’t come to this book looking for that. Come to Brotherhood looking for a story of unhappiness between brothers, a story of rising racial tensions, and ultimately, a story of repentance.
Disclosure: Review Copy Provided By Publisher