cover image A Sitting in St. James

A Sitting in St. James

Rita Williams-Garcia. Quill Tree, $17.99 (480p) ISBN 978-0-06236729-7

The history of a white plantation-owning family dominates this substantial portrait of antebellum slavery by Newbery Honoree Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer). Forced to marry a middle-aged planter or risk death at the French Revolution’s start, Madame Sylvie Bernardin de Maret Dacier Guilbert is now the 80-year-old mistress of a failing plantation. Presiding over Le Petit Cottage in Louisiana’s St. James Parish, Madame Sylvie insists upon sitting for a painting—“an obligation to the legacy of the family”—despite its cost. Aiming to keep the estate afloat while catering to his mother’s traditions, her syphilitic son connives to marry off his children. Twined with the Guilbert family’s past are the histories of the enslaved people they exploit in the 1860s, including 16-year-old multilingual Thisbe, personal servant to Madame Sylvie. This provoking history unsparingly centers the brutalization of its Black characters, including manifold instances of beatings, sexual assault, and slurs. If the telling dramatizes harmful philosophies and queer pain, it also offers an unvarnished look at a slowly toppling power structure obsessed with artifice and tradition, hinting through a notably long-view lens that new generations may, slowly and not without suffering, move away from antiquated ideology. Ages 16–up. (May)