Journey to a Different Life

Inventing Victoria by Tonya Bolden

In this historical novel for young adults, author Tonya Bolden explores the 1880s, the period after the American Civil War in which many African-Americans attained middle class status and positions in the United States government. 

In Savannah, Georgia, young Essie – the daughter of an unknown white man and a former African slave who works as a prostitute – grows up in a “house of ill repute.” As she enters her teens and becomes aware of her domestic circumstances, she longs to shed the resulting shame she feels. But unfortunately, as she breaks away from the house, she also experiences a painful break in her relationship with her mother, for whom she has no understanding or respect.

Essie can hardly believe her luck when she is befriended by a mysterious black woman who sees the potential in her, teaches her to become a lady, and eventually helps her to find her place in the ranks of Washington society. Essie, who later names herself Victoria, discovers that being reinvented is often a painful, sad journey in which she is forced to leave behind all those whom she loves. Besides, she tires of the etiquette lessons, the gossip, and black society’s concern about colour: “light skin was cause for pride for so many.”

But Victoria perseveres. Overcoming numerous challenges, she finally realizes her childhood dream: to help her own people who live in poverty, who lack access to education, and who are increasingly maligned and marginalized as the hard-won freedom of African Americans is again curtailed.

Inventing Victoria is based on meticulous research and gives young adult readers a glimpse into a period of black history that, Bolden claims, has been neglected. Particularly interesting is how Bolden portrays Essie\Victoria’s faith in God and her knowledge that “Thou God seest me.” 

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