When the authors asked if I would be interested in previewing America’s First Daughter I hesitated for about two seconds. Now that I have finished reading it, I hesitate to write up a review for the simple reason that I don’t know if I can produce one worthy of this fascinating book. Let me start with a statistic; so far this year I have read 60 books and I would have to say that America’s First Daughter has been my favorite read of the 60. The team of Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have created a masterpiece based on some 18,000 letters written by or to Thomas Jefferson, one of the more enigmatic of our Founding Fathers. The man who penned the words, “all men are created equal” and yet was a typical Virginian plantation owner complete with slaves, comes through as a man of deep convictions despite the contradiction of his actions. However, he is not the star of this story; that place belongs to his eldest daughter, Martha Jefferson, known as Patsy. From the time of her mother’s death in 1782 to the death of her father in 1824, she was the glue that held the family together, seeing her father through the good times and the bad. And there were quite a few bad times indeed. Something that I have found intriguing and certainly frustrating is the fact that much of what is taught in American history classes is that our Founding Father’s are in the main painted as saints when the truth is far from that. All one needs to do is take a look at the presidential election of 1800 to find the kind of rancorous party mudslinging to see that the contemporaries of Jefferson did not view him as a saint. He was even accused of being a Muslim by a political opponent…just goes to show that not much has changed in American politics. The lives of our third President and his family are brilliantly portrayed in such a way as to show them in their true light, warts and all. At the center of this is Patsy, a woman of immense strength and courage, she had to see her father time and time again brought low by deaths, political calumnies and the scandal of his relationship with Sally Hemings who was not only a slave but was the half-sister of his deceased wife. Patsy was also the mother of twelve children and the wife of Thomas Randolph, a man portrayed as being prone to fits of anger and despair. The authors have done a stellar job in the character development of the various members of the Jefferson household, and in the sometime extreme conditions they found themselves in. I found that Patsy’s life resembled a Greek tragedy or perhaps that of a yo-yo as the highs and lows were one of the constants in her life. I truly came away amazed at her resilience which is a testament to Stephanie Dray’s and Laura Kamoie’s writing abilities. Although this is a work based on historical documents, it is still a work of historical-fiction but composed in such a way as to seem like actual history, that the emotions and dialogue are what really took place. I cannot refrain from recommending this book in the highest manner possible. 5 stars is certainly inadequate but since that is the standard I have to go by….5 stars and a most hearty Hoover Book Reviews recommendation.
Q&A for Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Hello Stephanie and Laura and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions from this humble scribe. Let’s start with how did you two come to team up to write America’s First Daughter?
We were attending a conference together and we got to talking over dinner about the classes Laura taught as a professor of American History at the Naval Academy. Because of Stephanie’s background in law and American government, she was fascinated by the Revolutionary era. But most of her expertise was in ancient Rome so she was hesitant to take on a complicated new time period. Laura, who was already a successful author in another genre, had not yet tackled historical fiction. We had the brainchild to combine our experiences in writing a book about Jefferson’s influential but little-known daughter, and we got so excited about the project that we left dinner immediately for our hotel room where we researched until the wee hours of the morning. Thus, a beautiful partnership was born!
With the sheer number of important figures in the American Revolution, what drew you towards Jefferson and his daughter, Patsy?
Even though Jefferson wrote so much, he is the most enigmatic of the founding fathers. His mythos is so strong that today, both political parties claim him as their own. When we realized the role his daughter played in helping to shape that mythos, we began to wonder about their relationship. We know Jefferson as a founding father, but what was he like as an actual father? We thought that perspective might shed new light on our history.
This definitely appealed to Laura, who taught seminars on Jefferson. And it appealed to Stephanie because Jefferson cast a long shadow in her life. Her grandfather was a first generation American–the first to receive a high school diploma, and he received it from Jefferson High School in Rochester, New York. Her father and mother both taught in that school where they met and married. And so she has many memories of passing under Jefferson’s majestic gaze, which, through public education, invited immigrant families like hers to embrace the American dream.
I like the style of the book–by that I mean the use of Jefferson’s vast correspondence to base the story on. How difficult was it to make that 18th century style of speech, etc , into the wonderful dialogue and descriptive scenes in the book?
The hardest part about it was reading all those letters! Jefferson left a great gift to this country in that his correspondence is massive in both quantity and scope. He was also a marvelous writer with lots of quotable sayings. As authors, that gave us a lot to play with. We could almost always find a quote from one of his letters that we could work into the dialog–and wherever we could, we used Jefferson’s own words for his dialogue. From there, we tried to think, and compose, in a cadence that would be reminiscent of 18th century speech while still being accessible to a modern audience.
Related to the previous question, how did you manage to translate the dry written words into the emotional states of the characters, I mean poor Patsy was like a yo-yo at times.
This is where Patsy’s own letters were so helpful. They weren’t dry at all! Her letters reveal more than an ordinary dedication to her father. They also reveal a mentally tough personality paired with a playfulness and biting wit seldom at work in Jefferson’s writings. That helped us to bring her alive on the page. The number of emotional peaks and valleys in her life–as attested to by the history–are astounding. We were particularly struck by how much happened to her as a very young woman in Paris where, within a period of months she was torn between her desire to enter the convent and the courtship of a number of men. During those same months she likely realized that Sally Hemings was carrying her father’s child. She also faced the prospect of abandoning her dearest friends to a blood-soaked revolution in France. The frenzy and moral dilemmas of that time are reflected in the letters and allowed us to empathize with the choices she was forced to make, even when we didn’t agree with them.
She was a complicated founding mother, and as rich a character as any historical novelist could ever want!
What’s next for you two, singly and as a team?
So glad you asked! America’s First Daughter releases on March 1, 2016. And we just sold a new book about Alexander Hamilton’s wife Elizabeth called My Dear Hamilton (William Morrow), and we’re eager to get started on that, too.
“And what of our future . . . ?” I asked.
Mr. Short smiled. “If you could give up all thoughts of the convent, our future depends upon the orders your father is awaiting from America. Your father has asked that in his absence, I be appointed in his place as chargé d’affaireswith commensurate salary. If I receive such an appointment, then I can present myself to your father as a worthy suitor. Otherwise, I’m afraid he’ll consider me a wandering wastrel without employment.”
“He would never!”
Mr. Short chuckled mirthlessly. “You think not? I have in my possession a letter from your father lecturing me on the need to build my fortune. The most memorable line reads: This is not aworld in which heaven rains down riches into any open hand.”
How churlish of Papa, but had I not, from the youngest age, also received letters filled with his lectures? “You mustn’t worry, Mr. Short. If my father requested your appointment, then it’s sure to come. But until it does, how can I be sure of your intentions in asking for my love?”
I didn’t expect him to laugh. “You’re Jefferson’s daughter, to the bone. You want evidence. Well, give me the chance and I’ll give you the proofs you require—both of my love and of the world you should love too much to abandon even for God. I wouldn’t have you enter a convent, much less love, in ignorance.”
“What do you think me ignorant of?”
With mischief twinkling in his eyes, he stopped, drawing me into a grove of trees. Beyond us, in the ditch, we heard boys playing a ball game in the dim lamplight. Somehow, in the dark, Mr. Short’s fingertips found my cheeks, and his mouth stole over mine. This first kiss was soft and tender. As if he feared frightening me. Nevertheless, it shocked me. It was like my heart was a loaded cannon he’d held fire to, and it threatened to shoot out of my chest. But I wasn’t frightened and I didn’t pull away. Instead, it seemed quite the most natural thing to kiss him back, mimicking what he did, glorying in every soft, sweet sensation.
At the feel of my lips teasing softly at his, he groaned and pulled back. “Oh, my heart . . .”
The sweet taste of him still on my lips, our breaths puffing in the night air, I asked, “Have I done something wrong?”
He held my cheeks in his hands. “The error was all mine. I’d beg your pardon if I could bring myself to regret it, but I never want to regret anything with you, so tonight I must content myself with one kiss.”
Only one? I wanted to lavish a thousand kisses on his face. Hislips, his cheeks, his ears. The desire was a sudden hunger, a desperate plea inside me echoing like the cry of peasants for bread.
“What if I’m not yet content? Wasn’t kissing me meant to be the proof of your intentions?”
“No, Patsy. Kissing you, then stopping before satisfaction, is the proof of my intentions, which I hope you’ll see are honorable and directed toward your happiness.”
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About AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER:
In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.
From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.
It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.
Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father’s reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.
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Advanced Praise for America’s First Daughter:
“America’s First Daughter brings a turbulent era to vivid life. All the conflicts and complexities of the Early Republic are mirrored in Patsy’s story. It’s breathlessly exciting and heartbreaking by turns-a personal and political page-turner.” (Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat)
“Painstakingly researched, beautifully hewn, compulsively readable — this enlightening literary journey takes us from Monticello to revolutionary Paris to the Jefferson White House, revealing remarkable historical details, dark family secrets, and bringing to life the colorful cast of characters who conceived of our new nation. A must read.” (Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress)
About Stephanie Dray:
STEPHANIE DRAY is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into eight different languages and won NJRW’s Golden Leaf. As Stephanie Draven, she is a national bestselling author of genre fiction and American-set historical women’s fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation’s capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.
Website |Newsletter | Facebook |Twitter | AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER Website
About Laura Kamoie:
Laura Kamoie has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty books, Laura Kaye. Her debut historical novel, America’s First Daughter, co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
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