Pheby has lived a relatively sheltered like on a plantation, shielded by the master’s sister and her mother’s position. She has been promised freedom on her 18th birthday, but just before she turns 18 she is sent to the Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia.
Called “wholly engrossing” by New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Grissom, this “fully immersive” (Lisa Wingate, #1 bestselling author of Before We Were Yours) story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.
Born on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown has lived a relatively sheltered life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the estate’s medicine woman and cherished by the Master’s sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.
She’d been promised freedom on her eighteenth birthday, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known. She unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous Devil’s Half Acre, a jail in Richmond, Virginia, where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day. There, Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailer’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive, Pheby will have to outwit him, and she soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.
Yellow Wife is a book loosely based on a real enslaved individual in pre-Civil War Virginia. It reminded me of The Girl With the Louding Voice, but Yellow Wife did not pack quite as much of a punch.
Sadeqa Johnson crafts a plot that compelled me through the narrative and created page-turner that I did not want to put down. That being said, Yellow Wife was still a bit difficult to read due to the sheer brutality and treatment of slaves. However, Pheby, the main character, has a lot of strength and courage that helps counter balance this a bit.
I found that Yellow Wife ended quite abruptly. Without giving any plot points away, the book ended immediately after a critical event (that felt a bit like the climax of the story). There was no explanation of the aftermath of this event or its consequences that would have been massive. It, honestly, was letdown and quite frustrating. The story is somewhat wrapped up in a short epilogue consisting of letters, but there is a jump in time between these letters and the ending of the book, where undoubtedly a lot happens.
As for Johnson’s writing, I thought it was average yet lacked emotion. There was plenty of opportunity for it, but Johnson chose to largely skim over the details of how the protagonist was actually feeling. I should have been absolutely gutted by a book like this… and I just wasn’t. I do think a lot of authors struggle with this, and for me, it is what divides the great writers from the good and mediocre ones. That being said, I would read another book about the lives that Pheby’s children led if it was written.
I had a really difficult time deciding how to rate Yellow Wife. Ultimately, I decided to rate it a bit higher than I initially planned because I could not stop thinking about this book after I finished it. Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I wanted to be moved by the story as I should have been. I realized that I am in the minority in this opinion, so do not let my opinion stop you from reading this book.
January 12, 2021