Updated: Jan 25, 2022
BOOKTRIB: By Friends & Fiction | July 2nd, 2021
Every year on the Fourth of July, we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which in 1776 pronounced the Colonies were sovereign states no longer subject to the rule of Britain. The document goes beyond the boundaries of government to famously declare that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And while this statement may have been heartfelt, written as it was by men who had been subjugated by a monarch who gave them little in return, it has proven very difficult to put into practice. The concepts of “equal rights” and “liberty” have been particularly challenging for us throughout our 245 years as a nation.
This year, after one of the most tumultuous times in recent American history, we here at the weekly live web show and podcast Friends & Fiction urge book lovers to step back and read more deeply and widely about our country and its painful, sometimes complicated, but always fascinating history.
The ten books we have chosen — fiction and nonfiction, for children and adults — represent a mixture of the history surrounding Independence Day and the trials we have faced in living up to and defending its ideals, from the nation’s inception to our present day. We offer these as just a starting point for deeper conversations about our country’s past, and our future.
Patti Callahan —∞—
The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed (W. W. Norton & Company) This extraordinary book won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in History. Written by an American historian and professor at Harvard, it is an intricate history of the enslaved Hemings family and their relation to Thomas Jefferson who had seven children with Sally Hemings. It is particularly remarkable for its empathetic and insightful consideration of human beings acting in almost unimaginably difficult and complicated family circumstances. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop
Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) A story of Boston in revolt, this classic novel is about 14-year-old Johnny Tremain, who is forced to ride for the patriotic newspaper as a messenger for the Sons of Liberty, involving him in the pivotal events that shaped the American Revolution. It was a 1944 Newbery Medal Winner and is still a bestselling children’s book today. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop
Photo credit: Bud Johnson Photography
Patti Callahan, New York Times bestselling author of 16 books, including the forthcoming Once Upon a Wardrobe
Mary Kay Andrews
News of the World by Paulette Jiles (William Morrow) In this National Book Award finalist set in 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a 71-year-old widower, Civil War veteran and an aging itinerant news reader, reluctantly agrees to transport Johannah, a nearly feral 10-year-old white captive of the Kiowa tribe, back to an aunt and uncle she’s never met. It’s a harrowing 400-mile journey through the lawless American frontier. The Tom Hanks movie was good, but no movie could adequately capture the spirit and quiet morality of this novel that examines the boundaries of family, culture, honor and trust.
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (HarperCollins) In 1985, at age 19, Trethewey, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate, learned that her former stepfather had shot and killed her mother in the parking lot of her apartment building on Memorial Drive in Atlanta. In the aftermath of her grief, the poet forces herself to finally examine how the racism, abuse and trauma experienced by her grandmother, her mother and herself inevitably shaped her life and her work. “To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it,” she writes. Trethewey tells this searing story with the power of a poet who has also mastered narrative prose.
Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of 28 books, including her latest, The Newcomer
Mary Alice Monroe
1776 by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster) In this masterful book, McCullough tells the intensely human story of those who marched with General George Washington in the year of the Declaration of Independence — when the whole American cause was riding on their success. Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is a powerful drama written with extraordinary narrative vitality. It is the story of Americans in the ranks — men of every shape, size and color — farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers.
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose (Simon & Schuster) Ambrose’s classic New York Times bestseller and inspiration for the acclaimed HBO series about Easy Company, the ordinary men who became World War II’s most extraordinary soldiers at the frontlines of the war’s most critical moments. Based on interviews with survivors, along with soldiers’ journals and letters, Band of Brothers shares the experiences of these legendary men as they displayed extraordinary bravery and faced unimaginable fear.
Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author of over 27 books, including her latest, The Summer of Lost and Found
My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (William Morrow) This epic novel tells the story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the wife of Alexander Hamilton, on the backdrop of the American Revolution. Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources in their research, and they deliver both a heart-stopping story and a soul-stirring conclusion: that the complex Eliza led with her heart and helped give birth to our nation.
Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson (Simon & Schuster) On a holiday that celebrates our nation’s freedom, we must remember that our country has a long history of denying that very freedom to many of our citizens. In Johnson’s gorgeous novel, based on the real story of an enslaved woman named Mary Lumpkin, we meet Pheby Delores Brown, born a slave in the mid-1800s but promised freedom on her 18th birthday. Instead, she is thrown into an infamous jail in Richmond, VA, known as the Devil’s Half Acre, where she must fight for her very right to survival. (Read Aimie Runyan’s review here.)
Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author of 15 books, including the forthcoming The Forest of Vanishing Stars
Kristy Woodson Harvey —∞—
Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers (Chronicle Books) This beautifully illustrated, captivatingly written children’s book answers the question of why The Statue of Liberty is posed mid-stride as if always moving forward. A charming story, meant to be read aloud, it is a reminder to all ages of the principles on which America was founded — and a challenge to each of us to remember that our diversity is our strength. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop
These Truths by Jill Lepore (W.W. Norton & Company) Beginning in 1492, Lepore tells the American story in captivating prose, questioning whether the United States has held up its commitment to the Declaration of Independence. Part historical record, part journalistic inquiry, it is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand more about the current state of the United States and how we got here. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop
Kristy Woodson Harvey, New York Times bestselling author of 7 books, including her latest, Under the Southern Sky
About the Author:
Patti Callahan, Mary Kay Andrews, Mary Alice Monroe, Kristin Harmel, and Kristy Woodson Harvey are the five bestselling authors behind Friends & Fiction — a wildly popular weekly live web show and podcast with an online community of nearly 50,000 members across Facebook and Instagram.