March 26, 2021
The Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly
Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Civil War, Slavery, Nursing
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Thanks, #NetGalley @RandomHouse for my complimentary e ARC of #SunflowerSisters upon my request. All opinions are my own.
Third in the “Flowers Trilogy” (as I affectionately think of them), Sunflower Sisters precedes Lilac Girls and Lost Roses in a historical timeline and altogether the three books involve three wars. First, Lilac Girls is set during WW11 and features heroine Caroline Ferriday; next, Lost Roses, a prequel to Lilac Girls, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza Ferriday, and is set in the pre-WW1 era; finally, Sunflower Sisters is the prequel to Lost Roses and is set during the Civil War. All the stories in the trilogy can be read as stand alones.
In Sunflower Sisters, Georgeanna Woolsey, a great aunt of Caroline Ferriday, is a Union nurse at a time when the medical field was dominated by men. She crosses paths with Jemma, a young girl who was enslaved, sold off, ran away, and was conscripted into the army. Jemma has a sister, Patience, who remains enslaved on the plantation next door. Sunflower Sisters describes Civil War experiences and plantation life, and it includes family drama.
In this story, sunflowers are a symbol that slaves used to warn each other of danger.
Do you like stories about nurses?
Are you curious about the first female nurses in the U.S.?
Nursing during the Civil War: One of the most interesting aspects of Sunflower Sisters is the description of nursing experiences during the Civil War and Georgey’s training under Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in America to obtain a medical degree. At this time, the medical field was a man’s profession, so determined and ambitious women had to break this barrier to become real nurses. Georgey is a pioneer in nursing and works hard to gain the trust of doctors and encourages and teaches other women who also want to be nurses. As part of her nursing duties, she cares for and compassionately befriends Jemma and becomes involved with the rescue of Jemma’s sister, Patience.
Well-researched: Readers can always depend on Martha Hall Kelly for well-researched and ambitious historical fiction. Her characters are well-drawn and the historical details are vivid and descriptive.
POVs: Sunflower Sisters is a compelling and complex story of the Civil War and it’s told from multiple perspectives: Georgey is a determined nurse from a privileged, abolitionist family; courageous Jemma (and her sister) are enslaved (before Jemma joins the army); and Ann-May is a mean and possessive plantation owner who fancies herself as a spy in her free time. These multiple points of view can also present a challenging reading experience (which I enjoy!) as we rotate points of view and locations. Throughout the reading, I felt more and more connected to the characters and enjoyed a satisfactory conclusion.
Highly recommended: Readers who appreciate ambitious and well-written historical fiction will find Sunflower Sisters filled with historical details and references. Don’t miss the author’s notes which mention that this story was inspired by the real life Woosley sisters and their personal correspondence. Recommended for Civil War enthusiasts, for readers who love stories of inspirational women, and for book clubs (although it is a hefty 528 pages).
Book Club Question: If I were reading this in book club I’d want to discuss the legacy of the women in this trilogy. In each of the three generations represented in these stories, the women are inspirational in their courage, independence, charity, and service. How is this value passed down to the women in the next generation? Is it through oral history? Do you feel you have internalized values that have been passed down generation to generation in your family?
My Rating: 4.5 (rounded to 5) Stars
Sunflower Sisters Information Here
Meet the Author, Martha Hall Kelly
Is Sunflower Sisters on your TBR?
Have you read other titles by Martha Hall Kelly?
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Wonderful review Carol
I love civil war nonfiction, but historical fiction has to be spot on for me to click with it!
In my limited knowledge, Kelly is a fairly fastidious researcherI think. It would be interesting to see what you think!
I’m glad you liked it, but she lost me as a reader with her Lilac Girls. It was disrespectful to Jews who suffered during WWII and the Holocaust, by practically ignoring that they were the main target of the Nazis. I’m afraid I will never read her books.
Thanks for commenting Davida. I appreciate your insights as it helps me be a more thoughtful reader.
I read the other two books and have been looking forward to this one coming out.
I hope you enjoy it Sue!
You find the best HF! Great review!
Thank you Kym!
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I’m always really hesitant about books that discuss medicine or healthcare because it annoys me with things are inaccurate. However, this one sounds well researched!
It’s always amazing to hear about medical procedures from so long ago!
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I think these three would be interesting to read – it’s an interesting way of crossing time & remaining in the same family
The first two are more closely tied together because it’s mother and daughter but the third is a distant relative.
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