Inventing Victoria was an emotional historical fiction about class, sacrifice, and perseverance.
As a young black woman in 1880s Savannah, Essie’s dreams are very much at odds with her reality. Ashamed of her beginnings, but unwilling to accept the path currently available to her, Essie is trapped between the life she has and the life she wants.
Until she meets a lady named Dorcas Vashon, the richest and most cultured black woman she’s ever encountered. When Dorcas makes Essie an offer she can’t refuse, she becomes Victoria. Transformed by a fine wardrobe, a classic education, and the rules of etiquette, Victoria is soon welcomed in the upper echelons of black society in Washington, D. C. But when the life she desires is finally within her grasp, Victoria must decide how much of herself she is truly willing to surrender.
(Disclaimer: I received this free book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
There were so many things I appreciated about the story – the setting, Essie/Victoria’s determination to move up in society, her relationship with the mother figures in this book – but at the end I was craving a bit more expansion. The story, in and of itself, is one that is well rounded, all ends tied up, a fantastic setting, history, and a main character you can empathize with. While I got a sense of who Victoria was, I never really felt like I knew her. Whether this be because most of the book is about her inventing this new identity of Victoria, I’m not sure. But at the end of the day, I’m not sure what made Essie tick.
The setting was like observing fragments of the past, while they still beat. I adored the way Bolden brought the past to life from a rarely written about setting. Or at least to me. I haven’t seen many YA novels in the last few years set post-Reconstitution. Combined with this rich setting, Essie longs to get away from her mother and her station, so when the chance of a lifetime is offered up to her, Essie turns into Victoria.
While I was rooting for Essie the entire time, I didn’t feel like I knew her. I wanted to see her fears, to feel the shaking beneath my fingers, and the sense of dread in my stomach. But it was like looking at someone through a mirror, understanding the parts of their lives, but being unable to feel them. That being said, I also really appreciated the way Bolden talks about class.
Even though slavery is banned, racism still very much exists, just in more subtle ways. In ways they are left out of laws, harassed, treated differently. When Essie thinks she will escape all of that, she instead is introduced to the classicism between the more wealthy black people and their servants. At the beginning of the novel, Essie feels that her lighter black skin sets her apart – reveals her biracial origin and, therefore, her mother’s actions. But as she is welcomed into higher society, her lighter skin is coveted and so when she begins to associate with a potential suitor, people comment that her lighter skin would go to waste (her children having darker skin from their father).
Another small touch, that I wish had been expanded upon, was how a minor character is introduced whose ambition sets them apart from high society. And how differently her peers treat this minor character who dares to break the rigidity of femininity. I had wished we got to know more of this character. Even though Essie’s mother is only briefly in the picture, I wish she had been more involved. Their relationship is one marred by slavery. Her mother is deeply flawed, and not the best mother, but she is dealing with her own traumatic scars with slavery. Slavery is no far away echo.
I recommend Inventing Victoria if you want a unique historical fiction novel. You will root for Essie as she tries to become a lady and the story draws you in. You want to find out what happens to Victoria, if we really can change the cards we were dealt.