Hello again! Back for some more historical fiction? Great! Because this is exactly what I have for you today.
The Girl at the Back of the Bus by Suzette Harrison
Montgomery, Alabama, 1955
On a cold December evening, Mattie Banks packs a suitcase and leaves her family home. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she has already made the mistake that will ruin her life and disgrace her widowed mother. Boarding the 2857 bus, she sits with her case on her lap, hoping that the driver will take her away from disaster. Instead, Mattie witnesses an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks that changes everything. But as Mattie strives to turn her life around, the dangers that first led her to run are never far away. Forging a new life in a harsh world at constant risk of exposure, Mattie will need to fight to keep her baby safe.
Atlanta, Georgia, present day
Ashlee Turner is going home. Her relationship in ruins, her career held back by prejudice, she is returning to the family who have always been her rock. But Ashlee’s home is not the safe haven she remembers. Her beloved grandmother is dying and is determined to share her story before she leaves…
When Ashlee finds a stack of yellowing letters hidden in her nana’s closet, she can’t help the curiosity that compels her to read, and she uncovers an old secret that could wreak havoc on her already grieving family. As she tries to make sense of what she has learned, Ashlee faces a devastating choice: to protect her loved ones from the revelations, or honor her grandmother’s wishes and follow the path to the truth, no matter where it may lead.
For readers of The Help, Orphan Train and Before We Were Yours comes a beautiful and heartbreaking novel about redemption, family secrets and the spirit of survival found at the hardest time.
I love a book with strong female leads – and this one has two. Mattie is such an amazing character. Now, I can’t say I’m an expert in the area but I found her to be an important personification of black females in the 1950s. Mattie’s personal story of hardship, discrimination, and limited opportunities, but also strength, determination, and strong will is the story of many women who fought for freedom in one way or another.
As we flip between Mattie and Ashlee’s stories, we are starkly reminded that racial discrimination was not limited to the 1950s. Ashlee is held back in her career due to prejudice and this leads to her questioning her entire life. This was the most relatable aspect of Ashlee for me, her uncertainty that she is the right/job career. Not that I was expecting to fully relate to Ashlee or Mattie; we’ve had very different life experiences. The importance of these characters from me was getting to learn through them, which I certainly did.
However, the character strength of Mattie and Ashlee was not enough for me to love The Girl at the Back of the Bus. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the book was missing something for me. One part of me thinks it needed a stronger plot, another part feels like there was too much filler text in areas. I also feel that there were some areas that could have been explored more (Mattie’s relationship with her mother, Ashlee’s relationship with Brad) to make this story a bit more unique. I actually thought the Rosa Parks part would be stronger but, for me, it didn’t tie into the overall plot as well as it could have. I just needed something else to draw me in more and take it from a 3-star to a 4-star read.
Overall, I do think this was a good book with an important story to tell. However, I don’t think it is the story I would recommend to other readers interested in learning more about the time period and/or topics touched on.
The Girl at the Back of the Bus is available to buy now.
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.