Review: The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
HarperCollins, 2013

Description (from the author’s website)

Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite Manhattan law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that can make her career: find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for the descendants of American slaves.

An unexpected lead comes from her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, who tells her about a controversy currently rocking the art world. Art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of slaves from her plantation Bell Creek, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine. A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the firm’s lawsuit—if Lina can find one. But nothing is known about Josephine’s fate following Lu Anne Bell’s death in 1852. Did Josephine die at Bell Creek? Was she sold? Or did she escape? Searching for clues in old letters and plantation records, Lina begins to piece together Josephine’s story—a journey that leads her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother’s mysterious death twenty years before.

Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing tale of art and history, love and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and ask whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.

My Review – 3 Stars

The House Girl is a about two women living in different times, Lina and Josephine.  Lina Sparrow, a modern-day lawyer researches the past to learn about Josephine, a slave from the Bell Creek Plantation in Virginia.

The author, Tara Conklin, gives an engrossing description of appalling conditions existing for slaves, trying to run away to freedom.  My curiosity was piqued in terms of ancestry research as Lina tries to prove Josephine’s ancestral lineage.  Parts of Lina’s discoveries are through correspondences that were eloquently written.  Josephine’s story was compelling.

However, The House Girl, fell flat for me in some areas, particularly in Lina’s story.  Even though her story was peripheral to Josephine’s, it seemed too vague.  She had unresolved issues, including issues with her career, as a lawyer, and issues concerning the loss of her mother.  She was raised by her loving father and lived with him.  It seemed too coincidental that both of Lina’s parents, like Josephine, were artists.  Their backstories or Lina’s did not crystallize for me.

In conclusion, The House Girl gets a mixed nod from me.

9 thoughts on “Review: The House Girl by Tara Conklin”

  1. I have been curious about what the book was about and the story outline sounds so good. Too bad it has such mixed reviews. Appreciate your candor.


  2. My book club recently selected this one but I have some reservations. Since I’m going to miss the meeting anyway, may take a pass. Thanks for the honest review.


Comments are closed.