cover image The American Daughters

The American Daughters

Maurice Carlos Ruffin. One World, $28 (284p) ISBN 978-0-593-72939-7

Ruffin (The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You) sets his potent latest in pre–Civil War New Orleans, where an enslaved girl joins a secret resistance movement run by women. Ady is raised by her mother, Sanite, who came of age in a runaway settlement deep in the forests and swamps of Louisiana and teaches Ady basic survival skills such as hunting, planting, and foraging healing herbs. She’s seven when they are sold to John du Marche and forced to work at his townhouse, and a preteen when Sanite dies from yellow fever, leaving Ady lonely, scared, and confused until she meets Lenore, the young free African American woman who owns the Mockingbird Inn, an integrated establishment in the French Quarter. There, Ady experiences a facsimile of freedom along with a burgeoning friendship with Lenore, who hires her to work at the inn during hours when she’s not expected by du Marche. After a dramatic incident involving a slave hunter’s visit to the Mockingbird, Ady learns that Lenore has been hiding a secret: the Mockingbird is a cover for a web of women engaging in espionage and violent resistance against slavery. Ruffin’s dignified prose and focus on the bonds of women of color help elevate the novel from the tropes of slavery narratives, and he paints a vibrant picture of antebellum New Orleans. Readers won’t be able to resist this stirring story of freedom by any means necessary. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Mar.)