It has been years since I picked up an Ann Rinaldi book. For those of you who are not familiar with her, Rinaldi writes historical fiction — mainly in the Young Adult realm, but I think her work translates to many ages. It is always well-researched, poignantly put, and gripping.
I had just finished Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, which I will not review in detail because it has become such a sensation. Plus, I don’t want to accidentally give out any spoilers. Suffice to say you should read it; I am still pondering the story weeks later.
Anyway, after weeping in bed post-Me Before You, I was craving something less emotional and more interesting, if that makes sense. I noticed my Rinaldi collection on the shelf and automatically reached for A Break With Charity, which is a favorite of mine, but then realized I had one I didn’t recall ever reading before. Finishing Becca is the story of a maid to Peggy Shippen, who marries Benedict Arnold and is speculated to be the reason behind his treachery in the Revolutionary War. I never get tired of historical fiction told from the perspective of servants. It is just plain smart to tell the story from the mind of those who witnessed it all in silence, who were almost literally the flies on the wall.
Sidenote: If you are an Austen fan, Longbourn by Jo Baker is a great twist on Pride and Prejudice, told from the maid’s point of view.
Becca is relate-able and likable, a well-written character with a lot of depth and a strong story backing her up. But what I always find so powerful in Rinaldi’s work is her overarching style — simple, but riveting. It is not even that she is writing a particularly suspenseful plot — in fact, I find her books to be on the slower-moving side of things. But it doesn’t feel that way while you are reading. In fact, you go to sleep imagining you are in pre-independence Philadelphia, with candlelight flickering on the wall and Loyalists in the dining room. You can hear silk dresses shuffling and smell soup made by slaves bubbling on the stove.
I have a vivid picture of every character in my mind, and that is probably what I love most about Rinaldi’s novels. They really bring history to life in an uncomplicated way. Maybe that is why the stories teach so much more than a history book. They have personality, but they don’t put on airs about it.
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