It was common for slave masters to see their offspring with enslaved women as property and not as their actual children. So it's no surprise when Sarah, the daughter of house slave Emmeline, is trained to be a personal maid to her sister, the daughter of the master and mistress of the estate. And when Clarissa is married off later on, Sarah is given to her so that she may continue her role.
In their younger years, Sarah and Clarissa were playmates and it's because of this that Sarah learns to read. Clarissa's mother, Theodora, isn't the typical plantation mistress, in that she's more educated than most. While she knows that it's illegal for Sarah to know how to read and write, she teaches her anyway at Clarissa's insistence that she won't attend lessons without Sarah. This sets the stage for Sarah to escape later and this is really the problem I have with the book. It seems so formulaic.
The author is determined to give Sarah's story an atypical ending and get her to the place she wants her to be by story's end. Instead of letting the story fall into place naturally, she manipulates it to give the outcome she wants. So much time is spent focusing on the story that she's trying to tell, that she forgets to develop her characters. For example, the story is Sarah's, but she is never fully developed. Readers don't get invested enough in her story to care.
On the flip side, Bodden has Theodora narrate the other side of the story. Not only do we know much more about her, we also empathize with her character. She becomes someone we could like because the author takes the time to humanize her.
I think it was important to Bodden to tell this story. It should have been just as important to develop her characters. The Wedding Gift is a valiant first time effort. I can only hope that the author learns how to better narrate and create multidimensional characters the next time around.
Published: September 2013
Disclosure: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.