Review: Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe

alice-freda-forever“In 1892, America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn’t her crime that shocked the nation—it was her motivation. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had planned to pass as a man in order to marry her seventeen-year-old fiancée Freda Ward, but when their love letters were discovered, they were forbidden from ever speaking again.
Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned a heartbroken Alice. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letter—and her father’s razor soon went missing. On January 25, Alice publicly slashed her ex-fiancée’s throat. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her father that very night, and medical experts agreed: This was a dangerous and incurable perversion. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national interest, Alice spent months in jail—including the night that three of her fellow prisoners were lynched (an event which captured the attention of journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells). After a jury of “the finest men in Memphis” declared Alice insane, she was remanded to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances just a few years later.
Alice + Freda Forever recounts this tragic, real-life love story with over 100 illustrated love letters, maps, artifacts, historical documents, newspaper articles, courtroom proceedings, and intimate, domestic scenes—painting a vivid picture of a sadly familiar world.” – Goodreads

In 1892 America, the country was scandalized by a murder in Memphis, Tennesee. Ironically, it wasn’t the murder itself that was so shocking to citizens as the motivation for it. Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell had brutally slashed the neck of seventeen-year-old Freda Ward after their plans for a life of love together had gone awry. Alice had planned to pass as a man so that she and Freda could be married, however, when Freda’s sister came upon their love letters and learned of their plans, the two young women were forbidden from ever speaking to each other again. Freda appeared to adjust to this fate with an ease that broke Alice’s heart, and as each desperate letter Alice sent went unanswered, she became more and more desperate and unhinged, until the fateful day – January 25, 1892 – of Freda’s murder.

Alice’s father declared her insane that very day, and his diagnosis was corroborated by both medical experts and Alice’s attorneys – her love for another woman of the same sex was a dangerous and incurable perversion. Alice spent months in jail as the courtroom was expanded to accommodate the national interest of private citizens and the frenzied media. A jury of “the finest men in Memphis” ultimately declared Alice insane and she was remanded to an asylum, where she remained for just a few years until her death under mysterious circumstances.

 Debut author and historian Alexis Coe stumbled upon this story years ago and after years of meticulous research was inspired to bring the narrative of this notorious case to life. Alice and Freda’s story is enhanced with Sally Klann’s illustrations of maps, letters, and sketches. While this is a non-fiction book, it read like a novel to me, and held my interest throughout.

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis is at heart a tragic love story, but it is also a an eye-opening look at the moral evolution of the United States in terms of same-sex relationships – with same-sex marriage still outlawed in the majority of our fifty states, how far have we really come?

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe: Read it today!

3 stars

Source: Personal Library

 

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Review: The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde

the-language-of-hoofbeats“From the bestselling author of Pay It Forward comes a story of the heartbreak and healing power of family. New to a small town, Jackie and Paula envision a quiet life for their kids: a young adopted son and two teenage foster children, including the troubled Star. However, they quickly butt heads with their neighbor, Clementine, who disapproves of their lifestyle and is incensed when Star befriends her spirited horse, Comet. Haunted by past tragedy and unable to properly care for Comet, Clem nevertheless resents the bond Star soon shares with the horse. When Star disappears with Comet, the neighbors are thrown together—far too close together. But as the search for the pair wears on, both families must learn to put aside their animosity and confront the choices they’ve made and the scars they carry. Plumbing the depths of regret and forgiveness, The Language of Hoofbeats explores the strange alchemy that transforms a group of people into a family.” – Publisher Summary

Paula and Jackie are a young married couple who have recently moved from Napa Valley to a small, rural town in Northern California. They have brought with them their 8-year old adopted son, Quinn, and their two foster children – 13-year-old Armando, and the very troubled 15-year-old Star, who has only been with the family for a few short weeks. Across the street from their new home lives Clementine, a bitter, angry, and lonely older woman who resents this new family: the two women’s lifestyle, the three children, their many pets – the family’s very happiness, it seems.

Comet is a neglected horse living in a small corral that has been nailed shut by Clementine’s former husband. Star forms an instant bond with Comet, one which Clem resents greatly – causing her to order Star to stay away from Comet and off of her property at all times. Star doesn’t listen to Clem’s orders; she continues to visit Comet at night, brushing out the burrs from his coat and the mats from his mane. When things at home become too much for her, Star hits the road – taking Comet with her.

When Star runs away with Comet, the three women are beside themselves: Jackie and Paula with worry over Star’s well-being, and Clementine with an oddly strong reaction to the disappearance of the horse she had been neglecting and seemingly didn’t even care about. Paula and Jackie are put in the position of helping to care for Clem while she is in a sedated condition, and a strange sort of bond begins to form between the family and Clem as they wait together for news of Comet and Star.

The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde is a character-driven novel that only gets better with time. By far my favorite character was that of Clementine – the pain she endures, the hurdles she overcomes, and the changes she so determinedly begins to make touched me deeply. As usual, Hyde weaves into her story children who are in need – this time in the form of the fostered children, Star and Armando. Hyde also stays true to form by bringing in another timely “controversial” element – a legally married same-sex couple.

The Language of Hoofbeats is a novel that will remind readers that even the most unlovable among us can be loveable, that all people can change if they try hard enough, and that a family can be formed by just about anyone as long as there is enough love and understanding to go around.

The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Read it today!

3.5 stars

Source: Lake Union Publishing {via NetGalley}

 

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