I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie
Published by HarperCollins on March 1st 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Biographical, General
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In 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.
From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.
It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.
Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.
America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie has all the promise of excellent reading. It is about a strong woman in history whose story I haven’t yet heard. It is set during a fascinating time period. There is a hint of romance within the jacket copy on the back of the book. By all accounts, America’s First Daughter should have been one of the best books I have read so far this year. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to what I felt was a great premise. I found myself rather disappointed in this read and my expectations were not met.
America’s First Daughter opens up with Thomas Jefferson and family fleeing from Monticello because the British are coming – well, right after when Patsy and Sally Hemmings have a moment. Soon after this flight, Mrs. Jefferson dies but on her deathbed, she admonishes Patsy, her eldest daughter, to look after her father. Patsy being quite young takes this as her life’s mission. And so, from there we read about Patsy’s entire life and how she helps her dad who is pretty much one of America’s dads if you really think about it – from Paris to Virginia to Washington, DC and back. We read about Patsy getting married and having baby after baby after baby, and a bit of politics and encounters with those historical figures we learn about in class.
Patsy “Martha” Jefferson is a rather interesting character. I loved reading about her early life — especially in France and how there’s this deep attraction to her father’s assistant, William Short. I loved how she makes these sacrifices and decisions meant to help her family out, but they don’t always turn out as planned. She certainly makes plenty of mistakes, which makes her feel more real. I loved how devoted she was to her children and her father. I thought her marital struggles were interesting – as were her backdoor dealings with politics and her maneuvering using society and other women to help certain people get seats as Congressmen and to protect other people. Also, how she struggles with slavery while actually owning slaves and essentially being related to the Hemmingses but not acknowledging it.
I’ve read a few reviews where people are disappointed about how much romance is in America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. I lean in the opposite direction. I felt like there wasn’t enough romance to make me believe in the spark between Patsy and the two men who were her main suitors, especially when it comes to the man who was her husband. There are some references to sex which makes sense considering all the children she had, but it is all behind closed doors. The most romantic tension of the book seemed to be between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. If anything, that relationship was a whole lot more interesting than the one between Patsy Jefferson and William Short or between Patsy and Thomas Randolph, who was kind of a terrible person to her.
Honestly, it took me nearly a month to get through America’s First Daughter. I thought this book was a bit of a slog. It reads like an expanded timeline, in that it sort of feels clinical, or very surface as it goes through the significant events in Thomas Jefferson and Martha’s lives. I disliked how the book would make reference to something that could be interesting and then does not pursue that. For example, Martha talks about going to school at the convent and how it was the best time of her life with the best friendships, BUT WE NEVER SEE THAT. Right after this line, it is like this detail is forgotten and dropped. This happens over and over. So, instead of being invested in details and getting true emotions out of this book, I felt like it was very “this happened and then this happened and then that happened and then I had a baby and questioned my relationship with my husband” etc. Frankly, this book is a bit of a slog and I would really only recommend it to people who are really into this time period and who like the romance brushed over quickly.
Other reviews of America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie:
Confessions Of A Book Addict – “history buffs will love and appreciate this untold tale about an important American woman”
Into The Hall Of Books – “GOOD GRACIOUS, what a novel. I just loved this book to pieces.”
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