Ross Howell Jr. at Library of Virginia

  • Library of Virginia 800 East Broad Street Richmond, VA, 23219 United States

Forsaken

In April 1912 white, 18-year-old reporter Charles Mears covers his first murder case, a trial that roiled racial tensions in Hampton, Virginia. An uneducated black girl just five feet tall, Virginia Christian was tried for killing her white employer, a widow. "Virgie" died in the electric chair at the state penitentiary one day after her seventeenth birthday, the only female juvenile executed in Virginia history.

Young Charlie tells the story of the trial and its aftermath. Woven into his narrative are actual court records, letters, newspaper stories, and personal accounts, reflecting the true arc of history in characters large and small, in events local and global. Charlie falls in love with Harriet, a girl orphaned by the murder; meets Virgie's blind attorney George Fields, a former slave; and encounters physician Walter Plecker, a state official who relentlessly pursues racial purity laws later emulated in Nazi Germany.

There is much to admire in the pages of Forsaken, especially the wonderfully vivid sense of time and place, Hampton Roads after the Civil War and Reconstruction. The novel's premise is ambitious, its events striking and tragic, and fiction and reality are deftly blended. Yet despite the tragedy of this intriguing and well-crafted novel, its story is one of redemption and hope.

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