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The American Daughters

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Important details about The American Daughters

Pace: Medium. It goes to a fast pace at the end of the book (during certain events) but returns to medium after those events are over.

POV: 3rd person (Ady), 2nd person (excerpts of Ady’s journal), and 1st person (passages of people interviewed over the years about Ady’s journal).

Trigger Warnings: The American Daughters contains themes that include slavery, racism, racial slurs, rape, sexual violence, violence, murder, colourism, classism, sexism & misogyny, white supremacy, dissociation & dissociative episodes, involuntary pregnancy, and war themes.

Language: There is moderate swearing in The American Daughters. There is also language used that might offend some people.

Sexual Content: There is minor consensual sexual content in The American Daughters. The nonconsensual content is alluded to.

Setting: The American Daughters is set in New Orleans, Louisiana.

My Review

The main storyline of The American Daughters centers around Ady. It is a well-written storyline that does make it uncomfortable to read. The author doesn’t try to sugarcoat or explain away what happened to slaves. I guarantee this content will make people uncomfortable, but it needs to be read.

I liked Ady. I wasn’t sure if I liked that she wanted to join The Daughters (with her owner being one of the prominent people they were gunning for), but once she did join, she was invaluable. The most valuable thing about her was that she could read and write (English and French). Her owner decided to pass her off as his daughter and educated her. Those skills gave information to The Daughters to do what they saw fit.

Besides the main storyline (which intrigued me), I also enjoyed the excerpts the author included. The author was able to fill in some blanks when it came to Ady and her life after the Civil War while also keeping it a mystery.

There is also a thread of romance intertwined in the book. I did think that Ady met her soulmate in this person. I was also sure that this person didn’t feel the same way. It wasn’t until almost the end of the book that the author discussed that.

The Civil War also takes up a considerable chunk of the book. The author doesn’t get into detail about the battles, but he does go into detail about how the city prepped for war and its effect on New Orleans. Even when the war came to New Orleans, the author kept it to a few paragraphs at the book’s end. Of course, there were descriptions of what Ady and The Daughters did to help the Union army. The chains were mainly mentioned (and yes, it is true).

I did enjoy reading about The Daughters and their work. While fictional, I have no issue imagining something similar existed. In a city where free blacks and slaves coexisted, I find it hard not to believe that a spy ring made up of free black women and slaves existed. The Daughters did a lot of damage, but they also took hits to their numbers. Towards the end of the war, only a few were left (including Ady), which led to what happened at her owner’s house (which was poetic justice in my eyes).

The ending kept me from giving this book a 5-star review (if you can make sense of my rambling above). I was happy with how Ady’s storyline ended. But then the author posted an interview with a twist I should have seen coming. This twist was so shocking, but it made sense. I was mad that I didn’t see it coming.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Random House, One World, NetGalley, and Maurice Carlos Ruffin for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The American Daughters. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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There is much to like in Ruffin's new book: engaging characters with realistic relationships, a focus on the agency of enslaved people to live meaningful lives and self-liberate, a pervasive sense of place in antebellum New Orleans, an energetic plot, and assured storytelling. There is some airbrushing of Ruffin's picture, and the coincidences pile up as the story progresses, so expect more fable than social realism. Indeed, Ruffin pretty much tells us that's his aim in the final chapter,

I would class this as Young Adult fiction, although there is plenty here to get it banned in Florida high schools, and I enjoyed reading it.

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Praise for The American Daughters!

This was a raw, emotional gripping read and if you are a fan of historical fiction then add this to your TBR and make it a priority.

" All this air to roam where we please .This is just the start. It had never occurred to Ady that freedom meant precisely this: the ability to use one's legs to carry oneself where one chose "

The American Daughters is a coming of age story of bravery , strength and hope. We read about Ady and her enslavement through her journals and how her harrowing path led her to "The Daughters" where a group of rebels unite together to form an alliance for freedom putting themselves on the line.

The American Daughters had loveable characters with great character development and will pull at your heart strings .

My only criticisms were that the first 30 pages for me were hard to get through , they felt blocky to me and that the story ended a little to quickly for me . However I was so invested and determined to follow Ady and make sure she made it to safety , and it is hard to believe that this story fiction as the author is an exemplary story teller and I was enamored by the woman in this story .

I thank Netgalley , Random House Publishing Group and Maurice Carlos Ruffin for this remarkable and courageous read!

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The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
This is a tale of the deep south, in times of slavery, in the years prior to and during the Civil War of the United States. It is the story of Ady, a young black girl born to slavery. her mother, Sanite, both with spirit and a dream of freedom. In many ways, it retells the story of exploitation and abuse of the era and geography, the facts of which are well known. But this version is told by a young girl who has courage, and comrades among the black women, both free and enslaved. The journey she takes is riveting and I found myself cheering each of the brave and feisty women she encounters.
What is unique about this book is the framing of the text and occasional inserts that cause the reader to look back from a focal point in the distant future, when books are no longer made of paper and ink, and historical artifacts are authenticated through scientific methods not easily understood. In that, it becomes not only an accounting of the past, but also a bit of science fiction. (Though fiction is something those future scientists have no time for.). It’s a splendid book, recalling the foundations of where the United States is today, and offering hope for continual progress where race and gender discrimination are concerned. Thanks to NetGalley and Random house for the advanced readers copy. The book was released today, February 27, 2024.

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Ady grows up under the scourge of slavery with a more than usual sense of purpose and with the benefit of more education than the law allows. The group of women she joins referenced in the title apparently really existed, were instrumental in the downfall of the Confederacy, in New Orleans in particular. Although I didn't find this as original as Maurice Carlos Ruffin's previous two books, We Cast a Shadow in particular, it was beautifully written. My quibble is that there was such a long buildup to the events that made these American Daughters so special, their bond so important. Early pages of the book contain all the outrage and helplessness expected from books on this devastating subject.

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I really enjoyed Ruffin’s 2019 novel, WE CAST A SHADOW, so THE AMERICAN DAUGHTERS was one of my most anticipated new releases this year. And let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. This work of historical fiction follows young Ady and her mother, both enslaved in New Orleans, as Ady grows into a courageous young woman and becomes part of a secret network of spies fighting for freedom. With rave reviews in all the major outlets, you’re going to continue to hear more about this one throughout the year!

What’s interesting is that it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting … the structure surprised me a bit, which was great. The story is set down within a larger framework that makes for a particularly interesting ending. I’ll leave my comments at that and let you enjoy the experience for yourself. You’ll also understand why I had to include some birds in my photo after looking more closely at the cover and reading the book!

This is one of those novels where I felt like I was pulled out of the real world and plopped down into the world of the story every time I picked it up. I could so vividly imagine what was happening and these characters had my whole heart. It’s exactly why I love reading! The pages flew by and the only drawback for me was that I was left wanting more. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Ady yet! Thankfully my pre-ordered hard copy should be arriving later this week, so I don’t have to … I can just visit her again. 💖

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The American Daughters, the second novel and third book by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, is a historical novel about Ady, a slave girl, who lives in a New Orleans and eventually finds kindred spirits in the women who work at The Mockingbird, a club ran by a free woman, Lenore. Ady is introduced by Lenore to a group of women spies who do things to undermine and sabotage the confederacy. Their actions do not stop the confederacy and slave owners from punishing them, but the war that the women wage against the oppressive men and government is one that makes them feel vindicated. Their work is justified for their work, regardless of the consequences. 

Ady (sort for Adebimpe) is an easy character to like and cheer for. She is intelligent, strong, and defiant in the face of ugliness and hatefulness. In books about slavery, readers are hard pressed to ever find any sort of compassion toward a slave owner, so it is easy to want Ady and to succeed in everything that she does, whether it be running away into the woods with her mother, Sanite, while as a little girl, or plotting with her spy friends to undermine the confederacy and her owner. We want her to be successful. The danger that she finds herself in does lead to parts of the novel where the tension increases, but most of the time, the things that she is doing feel like things that she should get away with. She is doing the right thing, even with the dangers that it brings.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin has written a novel that is more serious than most of his other stories, but slave stories come with a natural tone of seriousness. He does find the ability to add a bigger story to this novel, one that brings home the social commentary at the center of this book. There are a few parts written in the far future, from historians and family members generations removed, who are using the text of The American Daughters as the true records of what slavery is like. Ruffin is saying that at this moment, we are still close enough to American slavery that there is a strong narrative, but in one hundred and fifty years, the only record we might have left is the stories that have been passed along from the actual slaves themselves. The official narrative will eventually diminish the centuries of slavery in America into a footnote, so it is up to personal stories, memoirs and biographies, and even some fiction, to continue the true narrative of slavery in America. I would have liked more of these cuts to the future throughout the novel and how this story has turned into an important historical document, because this idea is subtle, and it takes the epilogue for this idea to really be solidified. The American Daughters is another great story by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, and even though it is a little more serious in tone than his previous works, his social commentary is just as strong.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the eARC.

What a book. I really cannot put it all into words, but wow. This book had the right pace to keep me interested the entire time, even when I do not always love historical fiction. I really just wanted to stay with these characters on their quest for freedom.

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In antebellum New Orleans, a woman and her young daughter are sold to a man who wants them to care for his townhouse. He spends much of his time at his slave labor camp, called a plantation, a day's ride from the city with his family. I don't want to give any of the plot away, except that it encompasses both terrible hardship and abuse, as well as love and women in unendurable circumstances finding ways to fight back. The novel changes in tone decidedly partway through, one half being an account of a girl growing up enslaved, and the second part being a rousing adventure story.

The center of this book is the city of New Orleans, a place where slavery thrived, human beings were bought and sold, but also a place where some Black people were free and had a vibrant culture of their own. Maurice Carlos Ruffin excels in both making the horror of slavery evident, without that horror feeling exploitative, and in emphasizing the agency and humanity of those who were enslaved. And I love the title, The American Daughters, and how it claims that title for its brave Black women, both enslaved and free, working to prevent the Confederacy from winning the war.

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{3.5 stars}

Ady is a young enslaved girl who is living with her mother in New Orleans. They suffer under the eye of their owner but have each other, until they don’t. Ady is still young when this happens and she must find ways to cope. In a city where free Blacks live amongst the enslaved, Ady finds hope and a way to make her life mean something.

This book definitely has a very slow pace. You don’t even learn what the American Daughters is until you’re 70% through. Then suddenly she is in the deep end and an expert at so many things. I wish we had been given a little more in that build up and a little less on all the years prior. Don’t get me wrong, Ady’s upbringing and her relationship with her mother were important and impactful and a book in themselves. But the thing IS called The American Daughters. The end is great and worth it but I now feel like I want to read a book about more of what The American Daughters did.

Read this one if you liked Yellow Wife.

Thanks to One World for gifted access via Netgalley. All opinions above are my own.

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Ruffin sets his latest novel in pre–Civil War New Orleans which was the core of the South: “wealthiest, worldliest, and the most in love with its own beauty.” 7 year old Ady and her mother, Sanite, are purchased at auction by John du Marche, to work in his city townhouse, far removed from his "slave labor camps also called plantations." Du Marche repeatedly rapes Sanite and she gives birth to his son, Emmanuel, whose resemblance to du Marche is not lost on his du Marches’ wife, who insures that Emmanuel is sold.

Sanite was raised in a runaway settlement deep in the forests and swamps of Louisiana. Afte Emmanuel is sold, she and Ady flee du Marche, escaping to the bayou surrounding the city, as Sanite searches for the hidden community of free Black people where she had lived until she and infant Ady were captured by slave catchers. While on the run, Sanite teaches Ady basic survival skills such as hunting, planting, and foraging healing herbs, but they are caught and forcibly returned to du Marche. Sanite dies from yellow fever, and Ady is alone and lonely, taking on all of the responsibilities of maintaining the townhouse.

In her travels in the city to pick up supplies for du Marche’s household, Ady is struck by the Free Negroes whose “chin never touched their neck.” Eventually, she finds her way to the Mockingbird Inn which is owned and operated by Lenore, a young free African American woman. Ady is astonished when Lenore and one of her employees, Alabama, run off slavers who enter their integrated establishment. Ady, who takes a part-time job at the Mockingbird Inn, learns that it is a cover for a network of Southern women engaging in espionage and violent resistance against slavery. Reflecting that her life “wasn’t the life of a child,” she joins in their pursuits.

I had difficulty reconciling that Sanite and Ady had run off and did not seem to be too harshly punished, as enslaved runaways were frequently put to death, even if it meant that their “owners” would lose valuable property. I also could not understand how du Marche, who “hated anything that might cause the black race’s advancement,” hired a governess to educate Ady and did not punish her when she brought an injured abolitionist into his townhouse. Most surprisingly, Ady continued to work at the Mockingbird Inn despite the fact that du Marche’s son was aware of her side hustle.

Ruffin's prose is graceful and his focus on the bonds of women of color help elevate the novel from the tropes of slavery narratives. He paints a vivid picture of antebellum New Orleans. “The American Daughters” offers an inspiring story of people who pursue a better future through courage and love. Thank you One World and Net Galley for an advance copy of this potent novel.

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A young enslaved woman discovers her ability to make a difference in the world.

The man who owns her calls her Antoinette, but she thinks of herself as Ady…just one of the many ways that she learns to maintain her own identity. She is raised by her mother Sanite, a spirited and independent-minded woman who has tried more than once to escape her bondage and who relishes her family’s rebellious history. They are owned by a wealthy businessman who is involved in local politics, and work to maintain his house in New Orleans. But while the work is not as backbreaking as toiling under the hot sun in the fields, there is no “better” form of slavery. As Ady grows, she suffers losses, and it is only when she encounters a group of women of color, both free and enslaved, who are known as the Daughter.s and who work to undermine the plans and goals of those who oppress them, that she discovers how badly she wants to make a difference, She will risk losing more than just her own life in order to join this group that for generations has used their silent proximity to those in positions of influence in order to wreak havoc with those who have underestimated them in every way.
With wonderfully developed characters and a vividly drawn backdrop of the American South in the years leading up to the Civil War. It is a testimony to the power of community and how those who have been enslaved can be motivated by their anger and frustration against the unfairness of their circumstances to rebel in many different ways. The characters of Ady, Sanite, Lenore and Arizona are well-developed ….all in all, a poignant story that is hard to put down once you begin it. Readers of the author’s previous novel, We Cast a Shadow, as well as of authors like Jasmyn Ward, Lalita Tademy and Lauren Wilkinson should definitely add this to their TBR pile. Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House. Publishing Group/One World for allowing me access to an advanced reader’s copy of this beautifully written novel.

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The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin was an intriguing historical fiction novel.
A compelling story of New Orleans around the Civil War.
The writing is so relatable and I was fascinated by the topic.
This has engaging characters and fascinating, well-integrated historical detail.

Thank You NetGalley and Random House, One World for your generosity and gifting me a copy of this amazing eARC!

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The American Daughters explores not only the strength and power of women, but of storytelling. We spend most of the book with Ady, an enslaved woman living and working in New Orleans. Although the novel starts out with her and her mother, by the time we reach the end, Ady has had to find a new family amongst a secret group of revolutionary black women fighting to foil the Confederates.

Sprinkled sporadically throughout are glimpses into the future where we read about and “listen” to discussion on this fictional work, “The American Daughters” and its origins and impacts.

While this was such a cool idea, it ultimately didn’t come together for me. Perhaps that was in part because what I’d heard about the book prior to reading it, sold it purely as an historical fiction title. Perhaps it was because we spend so much time immersed in The American Daughters with only brief excerpts from the future, that those moments from the outside felt jarring.

Of course, maybe Ruffin was purposefully trying to get readers so immersed in Ady’s story that we come to some conclusion about the power of fiction or mythology that I just didn’t reach. I did enjoy this book, it just didn’t all tie together for me and I don’t know that I’d recommend it.

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I really struggled with how to review this book. On one hand, the writing was incredible. The story and historical aspect were incredibly well written and researched. It was eye opening, awe inspiring, heart breaking and just overall very well done. However, my expectations on what this story was about were not met. The majority of the story is about Ady's childhood - as a slave, running away and time with her mother. I expected and to be honest wanted more of the story about when she meets up with a group of free black women - and her journey to freedom and independence. Overall, a fascinating story - a hopeful one, with strong, incredible black female characters. I think it is an important read for anyone - just go into it knowing that there is less about the Daughters and more about Ady's personal childhood and experience.

Thank you netgalley for my advanced reader copy.

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Well done historical fiction that's as much a coming of age story as it is about the brave women and actions of the American Daughters. Know that the Daughters aren't introduced until fairly late in the novel- that most of it is focused on Ady's childhood and teens, her life with her mother, and their struggle against DuMarche, the man who enslaves them. This is as compelling (and more emotional) as the story once Ady meets Lenore, the woman who introduces her to the Daughters. My quibble is that it ends abruptly and that the epilogue didn't work. That said, it pulled me in and kept me reading, rooting for Ady, even when it was a tad implausible in spots. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. A good read.

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Ady and her mother Sanite are enslaved to a businessman in the French Quarter of New Orleans, often reminiscing on their family's rebellious history. When separated, Ady is directionless, until she meets Lenore, a free Black woman who invites Ady to become a spy. Their group is called the Daughters, and Ady now chooses liberation and a new future.

The framing for this story is that of a historical document being found and commented on; there are so many stories recorded by slaves that clearly had been researched that the author conveys enough realism for Ady's and Sanite's experiences. Slaves in the city had a different experience, just as house slaves had a different experience from those in the fields. The language takes a bit of getting used to at first; the phrases sometimes come across as clunky, as he says "forced slave labor camp also known as a plantation" or "Antoinette also known as Ady" in the beginning. It really slows down the flow of the story, as I'm sure he could have just said "slave labor camp" and Ady, and the reader would know who he's talking about and what he's referring to.

We spend time with Sanite trying her best to shield Ady from the horrors of slavery and what the white people will do while dehumanizing them. Her owner forces attention on Sanite and when his wife complains, sells off their son as chattel. They're beaten after running away, and conditions aren't any better for them once caught. Ady survives, of course, but hers is a hard life even after it changes, full of grief and manipulation in a system designed to break her. She eventually is put in a position to learn about Confederate troop and supply movements. At this point, she and her new friends at the Mockingbird Inn are in danger, as well as the larger movement of spies all across the South. Their efforts bear some fruit, but Ady is never far from danger in a time period when a white man's whims could include her death.

While the conclusion completes the frame of the novel being a found document, I enjoyed it a lot more without that framing story. The narrative of Ady and Sanite's life, of Ady's attempts to move forward as a strong woman and make choices of her own, and the final gesture in the du Marsh townhouse were all compelling enough of a story. She has incredible bravery, even if she doesn't think so, and is an amalgam of all the women whose names we don't know who served in this role during that time period. Their stories were generally not recorded but likely were much like Ady's. I'm glad this one got a chance to be told.

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The American Daughters has been marketed as a spy novel during the Civil War, I would argue it is really a coming of age story by a young slave girl. We start with Ady and her mother, Sanite, being sold off in New Orleans to a man who has a house in New Orleans and also a plantation a little ways outside the city. Their responsibility is the upkeep of the house in town.

Right from the get-go they seem to have a lot more freedom than I would presume any slave to have but they are not free an they are very aware of that. But being in the city they come across Free Blacks many immigrants. Sanite was desperate to be free and they do take off in the night, unfortunately, they are captured and brought back. There is a lot of sadness to their story and yet there are hints of joy and certainly a hope of better times in the future.

Ady feels very isolated in the house and there are few people around compared to what it was like for them on a plantation. When she goes off to run errands in town, she meets other young women who at least appear to have a life of freedom that she dreams of. She makes friends and even works for one of them when her master (she won't call him that) isn't in town and she has fewer responsibilities. Again, I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the amount of freedom she had.

It wasn't until 50% into the book that we even heard the term American Daughters and what they were doing to stop the slaveholders. I really would have liked to have had more about them in the book especially because they really did exist and were instrumental in slowing down the Confederates. It felt a little like the author tried to get so many aspects of the times into the book that we never fully grasped any of them.

There was an underlying element told in between some chapters and in the epilogue that spoke to the book being written from a journal written by Ady and then rewritten in different versions over the years (up to a hundred years from now). I don't think this added to the story of overall understanding of the times, I actually think it took away from the book.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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On the cusp of the American Civil War, Ady is an enslaved woman in New Orleans. She works hard to navigate a life between two worlds. The perspective to contrast with free Creoles was enlightening, and I enjoyed the city and river described almost as additional characters. An overall good read about the women who used their strength to bring the enslaved to light and the slavers down.

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I really struggled with the American Daughters. The premise was so interesting. A group of women, many of them slaves, who became spies against the south. However, I wish there had been more detail about that part of the story. There was a lot of background about Ady's childhood and her mother Sanite, which was interesting, but sometimes confusing - they were slaves and had no control, but also seemed to have an amount of freedom that wasn't explained. Then there is a part of the book that reminded me of "The Testaments" - a view of this history from way in the future. I just found these different sections disjointed, but there were a lot of individual aspects that I really appreciated. In all, it's a really interesting story, but I just wanted it to be pulled together a little differently.

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