Have you ever heard of Mary Bowser? I hadn’t until reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser, an incredible debut novel by Lois Leveen. But it turns out that Mary Bowser was a real person and one who certainly helped the Union win the Civil War.I had the pleasure of meeting Lois Leveen out in her hometown of Portland last month where a group of librarians and booksellers were in her thrall as she talked about the research that went into The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Read on and I think you'll see why.
All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom.
Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father—and to fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command. Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost—even freedom. This is a novel about what happens when people choose to do what’s right, instead of what’s easy. The history woven into the story is a perfect launching pad for book clubs to talk about America’s past, and about what it means to do something truly heroic as Mary Bowser did at so many points in her inspiring life.
We’re thrilled to debut the book trailer for The Secrets of Mary Bowser here and share both the prologue and the start of chapter one. We’ll post two more excerpts on the Book Club Girl Facebook page before the book goes on sale on 5/15. Click here for the reading group guide and friend Lois Leveen on Facebook.