Saturday, April 23, 2016

New Review! The Secret Life of Winnie Cox by Sharon Maas, 3.5-4 Cranky Stars

The eponymous Winnie Cox lives a life of privilege as a sugar princess at the turn of the 20th Century in British Guiana. She is a member of the British gentry, her grandfather an earl, and her father is the owner of the plantation, Promised Land.

As events unfold, privilege and innocence is something reserved for the rich and white. People of color are afforded no such privileges.

After a primal scene, where Winnie is introduced to the living conditions of workers and former workers of her family’s plantation, the veil begins to drop and a seed is sown.

Winnie’s crucial growth is when she meets George, a black postal worker, and they fall in love. It is a thunderclap, love at first sight, and given the times and politics, forbidden.

She begins to see her place in the world through the history of her people and colonialism. This is not just racial, but also, familial. Her father and family are key stakeholders in preserving the status quo, confident that their race, class, and privilege will protect them.

Winnie discovers the lessons her mother, Ruth, learned the hard way. On the surface, Ruth’s absence can be attributed to depression and then neglect, but it houses a mystery, which is revealed through her diary expositions.

This is a book with big aspirations and important themes. The descriptions are vivid and beautiful. It transports the reader right to the time and place. The lines and intersectionality between race, class, and gender are clearly marked. Oft times, synonymous with one another.

To cross the boundaries is social suicide, as evidenced by the character of Uncle Jim. Worse. They are dangerous and can get you killed, a fact Winnie refuses to acknowledge, but George is only too aware.

It gets to the point in the story that Winnie’s personal growth is less heroic and more reckless. In fact, I became somewhat annoyed with her in that her status would protect her from life threatening consequences, but not people she encountered in her social awareness.

George, was an object in this story, rather than a subject. It is something Winnie acknowledges later on in the book. Clearly, their feelings were deep and true, but I had little sense of George. At fifty percent of the book, it became awkward and uncomfortable.

I would have liked more interaction between the characters, rather than just Winnie’s reflections on her feelings. There is a tendency toward melodrama and sentimentality in the writing. Also, the overuse of exclamation points became distracting. I understood Winnie was young and perhaps this was a stylistic choice, but as the book continued, it felt as if the author did not trust the reader to understand the emotions of the exchanges and importance of matters under discussion.

In saying that, I enjoyed this book and will continue on with the series.

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