The Book Mark

Books that make the grade.

The House Girl



For the first time since I’ve had this blog, I am a bit uncertain about a review. The House Girl (B?) by Tara Conklin has left me feeling ambivalent. Let me explain.

Josephine is a slave and serves as the house servant for the Bells. Josephine spends most her time with Lu Anne Bell who is terminally ill. Over the years, Lu Anne has taken Josephine under her wing, teaching her to read and sharing her love of painting.  Lu Anne hasn’t always been able to protect Josephine. Master Bell has sexually abused the teenager, at one point leaving her pregnant. The abuse has prompted Josephine to run once and now she is preparing to run again. There are many things she doesn’t want to leave behind, friends and the art that she has created while sharing Lu Anne’s studio.

In the present day, Lina is an attorney working for a firm that has a client seeking historical reparation for slaves. Lina’s assignment is to locate a living relative of one of the slaves making them the catalyst for the claim. As Lina discusses the case with her Dad, she learns that recently the authenticity of Lu Anne’s art has been questioned leaving many now to believe it is the work of her “house girl”, Josephine.

Lina’s dad, Oscar, is an artist.  He is preparing an exhibit of paintings he has done depicting Lina’s Mom who has not been in their lives for 20 years. Oscar raised Lina. She knows very little about her mom except that she was killed in a car accident.

There is a connection, albeit coincidental, that links the two halves of the story together. However, I feel it would have been best if Lina’s story were left out. Josephine’s story is powerful and compelling. The two characters that Lina meets through her Dad eventually play a part in Josephine’s story but the events leading up to this connection are too many and distracting. Lina’s back–story was too big a part of the book. It should have been a story on it’s own. Perhaps it could have been a very good one.  It should have been enough that Lina was so committed to Josephine’s story. Her relationship with Oscar did nothing to enhance the novel. Unfortunately, the reader has to navigate through this in order to reach Josephine. I was completely invested in Josephine’s history and bogged down by Lina’s. Therefore, I’d like to give to marks, Josephine (A) and Lina (C).


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