Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench: A NovelWench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
2010, 290 pages

Set in the U.S. in the early 1850s, this book tells the story of Lizzie, Sweet, Reenie, and Mawu - slaves who go on vacation with their masters to Tawawa House, a resort in Ohio renowned for its water. All four women are mistresses to their masters, who don't bring their wives along for the trip. Not far from the resort lies a hotel for freed blacks, and a visit there broaches the idea of escape among the slaves, each of whom have their own motives for running or staying. Lizzie, the centerpiece of the novel, struggles with the decision of whether to stay out of her love for her master, Drayle, and for her children, who are still on the plantation; or to run away to freedom.

This book tells an important story about the history of slavery in the U.S. From each of the women's stories, we learn about a different aspect of the cruelty and heartbreaking nature of slavery. I don't read much fiction about slavery, so although technically I knew about the kind of stories this book tells beforehand, it was still eye-opening and heartbreaking to read about it in this book, when I was invested in the characters and frustrated by their fates.

Lizzie, one of the slaves, is the central figure in the novel. We follow her through three visits to the resort in Ohio and also learn about the history of her relationship with her master, Drayle, and watch the changing status of Lizzie's children on the plantation. Although I found Lizzie a little hard to relate to and didn't quite understand all of her decisions, the her relationship with Drayle and her struggles with the decision of whether or not to run away is a very important part of the book.

Overall, I would say that this is a good book but not a great one. I'm glad I read it because the story that it tells is an important one, but I didn't love the story and characters for their own sake.


  1. I hope to read this book, this week. Sorry it was not a home run with you. I was hoping it would be great like The Help!

  2. I'm hoping to read this book sometime. I do agree that the story it tells is important. Sorry that it didn't click entirely for you!

  3. Dana, thanks for your honest thoughts on this book. I have it on my Kindle to read sometime soon.

  4. This sounds like an amazing story. It's a shame the characters didn't really engage you.

  5. Good review! I've heard mixed reviews about this one, so appreciated your honesty. Think I'll pass, as I don't think it's my type of story. Thanks!

  6. Great review. I felt the same way when I read Wench. I didn't care for Lizzie; I was more interested in the other characters. You should read The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow. I absolutely loved it!

  7. Diane - I had high hopes too, but unfortunately I didn't think it was anywhere near as good as The Help :/ I'll look forward to hearing what you think!

    Aths - I hope you enjoy it whenever you get around to it. Although I didn't love it, the story is an important one.

    Kay - I'll keep an eye out for your review!

    Stephanie - It certainly had the potential to be a great book, but it didn't quite make it there for me :/

    Alexia - Thanks. I've also seen the mixed reviews, so at least I was prepared going in.

    Marquetta - Thanks for the recommendation!

  8. I think I'll offer up another perspective here. I read Wench and I loved it. So did my bookclub. Dana, if you saw the "mixed reviews" before you read the book and "was prepared going in" perhaps you entered the book with bias...?

    I hope others will read Wench and decide for themselves. It's an important story and the language was beautiful.

    ~Janice F.

  9. Hi Janice,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that Wench is an important story. I'm glad that you enjoyed this book. As I said in my review, I thought it was good, but it didn't quite make it to great for me. I agree that it is an important story and for that alone is definitely worth a read.

    It's practically impossible to approach a widely publicized book like this one without some bias, reading any review for a book, or even just reading a plot summary, inherently biases you one way or another towards a book before you even read one word. However, once I start reading, I'd like to think that the book speaks for itself, regardless of anything I might have heard about it beforehand. Sometimes I'll read great things about a book but end up with lukewarm feelings towards it, other times I'll love a book that has received mixed reviews.

    Thanks for sharing your opinion! I know a lot of people have loved this book, unfortunately, I just wasn't one of them.

  10. This looks like it could be such a great story. I think I will still read it despite the mixed reviews I have seen on it. Like you I do believe that the book will speak for itself as will the feelings it invokes in each different person. Thanks for the review!

  11. I was so hoping that this would be a great one--it has such promise!

  12. I appreciate the honest assessment. I hope to give this one a try at some point. It sounds really interesting and isn't a topic I normally read about.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  13. I agree with you on WENCH. I think it's well-written and impactful, but it wasn't a book I fell in love with.