The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen
When I was younger, some of my favorite books were those from the Dear America series. Do you remember them? They all focused on a specific area of America’s history and contained a wealth of information about what it was like living in that specific time period, all from the point of view of a young girl. I couldn’t get enough of those books. Reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser took me back to how much I enjoy reading books that have a historical base, and Lois Leveen gets a one-up on Dear America in that the main character of her novel, actually existed.
Lois Leveen’s The Secrets of Mary Bowser is loosely based on the real life woman of the same name who was a freed slave from Virginia who, after being educated in Philadelphia, returned to her home state at great risk to help serve the abolitionist movement. I say loosely based because while we know that Mary Bowser was a real person we don’t know many details about her life except that she was the freed slave of Bet Van Lew and she was a spy in the Confederate White House. If you aren’t fascinated by this already, then this book definitely isn’t for you. (How could you not be fascinated already??)
This book took some time to read. It’s over 400 pages, making it a good bit longer than the books I had most recently finished. I can truthfully say, though, that it was worth every minute. Even knowing that Leveen was filling in the very VERY large holes of what we know of Ms. Bowser’s life, I was completely happy just to learn about what it was like living at the time leading up to and during the Civil War. Leveen takes what could be a boring history lesson and gives it life. The historical events that take place in the book, even if Mary Bowser wasn’t directly involved or witness to, really did happen. This is a sad realization at some points as this is quite a sad part of our nation’s history but it is fascinating nonetheless to read about. As Mary Bowser states in the book “Soldiers go to battle, but it is whole nations that go to war.” Leveen uses her main character to describe the hardships that all those particularly Virginia experienced when the Civil War began.
If you’re a lover of historical fiction, check out Lois Leveen’s The Secrets of Mary Bowser. And once you finish reading the book, be sure and check out the “Author Insights: Extras and More.” This provides you with a historical note that puts into context how much we really know about the fascinating woman who was Mary Bowser.