Suzette D. Harrison’s twelfth book, My Name is Ona Judge, is based on the true story of Ona Judge Staines, a slave owned by Martha Washington, America’s first President George Washington. In this heart-touching story, Harrison explores the lives of plantation slaves, bondage, and the horrible human chattel system. Strong female protagonists, equally unforgettable secondary characters, a dual timeline, and a fabulous vocabulary make this a gripping and memorable read.
This book reminded me of another wonderful book I read last year – Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson, a moving, and terrifying story of the sufferings inflicted by the institution of slavery.
My Name is Ona Judge starts with a prologue set in 1797 when 22-year Ona Judge is fighting her inner demons as she is about to take the biggest risk of her life. Her belief and determination are highlighted by her thoughts,
The creator didn’t make me to be someone else’s possession.
The flashback begins when 10-year-old Ona is gifted as a playmate to Martha Washington’s granddaughter. Her promotion as Martha’s personal maid results in her being separated from her mother and siblings.
In the decade that follows, we witness many heart-breaking scenes of emotional and physical abuse, sexual assault of enslaved women, racial discrimination, death, and despair. But what stands out is Ona’s determination to escape slavery and take ownership of her life.
The transition is well-paced, and I could visualise Ona all along.
In the alternate timeline, set in the present in Chincoteague, Virginia, we learn the story of Tessa Scott, an interior designer, who plays an important part in the story. She discovers Ona’s tattered journal in a friend’s family home and thus begins the profound story alternating between the 1700s and the present.
Ona Judge’s harrowing life as a slave at Washington’s house, the pitiable lives of other plantation workers, and the sheer callous attitude of the slave traders form the backbone of this story. Tessa’s struggles with her physical and mental health and difficult relationship are well depicted too.
Family and family dynamics are central to both narratives and tie the stories together. Harrison has depicted Ona’s trials, tribulations, and determination interestingly. Tessa’s transformation and life moments are cleverly intertwined with Ona’s past, and every revelation is seamlessly integrated. Tessa’s character arc is very satisfying, and the resolution of her conflicts is done perfectly.
Both storylines have many secondary characters. And despite the large number, each one of them is well developed and leaves a mark.
Sometimes in books with a dual timeline, one part is done better than the other. However, that’s not the case here. Harrison’s vocabulary is just amazing, and the way she achieves a crystal-clear difference in tone, mood, and delivery between the varied timelines is praise-worthy.
The epilogue by Ona Judge adds the last flourish to this heart-breaking and heart-warming story.
My Name is Ona Judge is a well-researched and redeeming tale of love, loss, and determination.
Wordsopedia Rating 4.6/5
|Title: My Name is Ona Judge||Author: Suzette D. Harrison|
|Publisher: Bookouture||Publication date: September 6, 2022|
|Genre: Fiction–Historical||Format: eBook|
|ASIN : B0B3S55J3J||No. of Pages: 310|
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About the author
Suzette D. Harrison is an award-winning author of 10 books celebrating African American life and culture. A native Californian and the middle of three daughters, Suzette grew up in a home where reading was required, not requested. Thanks to a culinary degree in Pastry & Baking, when not busy on her next novel, you might find Suzette whipping up a batch of cupcakes.
Get in touch with the author on her website.