When young Olivia’s father died, he left 80 acres of land in Michigan to any of his children willing to cultivate it. Olivia decides that she wants that land, but she has a problem; she’s only 17, she’s female, and it’s 1840, a time when women are expected to concern themselves with finding a proper husband and raising his children. Not to be denied her dream, she convinces Mourning Free, the son of runaway slaves who does odd jobs for the people in her small town, and who she has known since they were both small children, to accompany her as her partner in the venture. Because of their racial differences, of course, he must pose as her hired man.
In Michigan, Olivia and Mourning start to make a go of it, and develop more than friendly feelings for each other. A neighboring family, though, has other plans for Olivia, plans that end in tragedy.
Olivia, Mourning by Yael Politis tells the story of Olivia and Mourning as each endeavors to cope with the often prejudiced and unrealistic expectations of a society in transition. It’s a story of irrational prejudice, irreconcilable views on gender roles, and the strength of the human will, set against a realistically described social backdrop. The characters, though flawed in many ways because of their upbringing, inspire empathy and admiration as they struggle with society’s strictures and their own fears.
This is a book that, once you start reading, you’ll find difficult to put down until you finish, And, after you’ve finished, you’ll want to know more.
Some readers will not like this book because it ends with something of a cliff hanger. It is, nonetheless, strongly written and is a good portrayal of the era in which it’s set. In many ways, most of the problems, including to a limited degree what happened to Mourning Free, are implied if not explicitly explained, and it does set up well for the sequels.
I give the author three and a half stars.