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The American Queen - Review

*I received a digital and audio copy from Thomas Nelson & Zondervan Audio via Net Galley. All reviews are my own.*

I'm back with another review, taking us to 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The American Queen by Vanessa Miller is inspired by the story of Louella Bobo Montgomery and her dream of being free in a place called "The Happy Land."

"In 1869 a kingdom rose in the South. And Louella was its queen. Over the twenty-four years she’s been enslaved on the Montgomery Plantation, Louella learned to feel one hate. Hate for the man who sold her mother. Hate for the overseer who left her daddy to hang from a noose. Hate so powerful there’s no room in her heart for love, not even for the honorable Reverend William, whom she likes and respects enough to marry. But when William finally listens to Louella’s pleas and leads the formerly enslaved people out of their plantation, Louella begins to replace her hate with hope. Hope that they will find a place where they can live free from fear. Hope that despite her many unanswered prayers, she can learn to trust for new miracles. Soon, William and Louella become the appointed king and queen of their self-proclaimed Kingdom of the Happy Land. And though they are still surrounded by opposition, they continue to share a message of joy and goodness—and fight for the freedom and dignity of all. Transformative and breathtakingly honest, The American Queen shares the unsung true history of a kingdom built as a refuge for the courageous people who dared to dream of a different way of life."


I had the experience of listening to the audio version featuring the narration from Angel Pean, and I must say, she was the right choice. Pean delivered the story beautifully, and I hope to hear more work from her.


As a black girl, I'm always taught and reminded about our history and hardships in America. While this book is not the typical slave story, I'm not surprised by the treatment and outcome of the enslaved during that time. But I always wondered what happened after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Where did the enslaved people go? What did they do to survive? You don't hear much about the Reconstruction period in history class, and the unknowing leaves a gap in our legacy. After some extensive research, Miller was able to zone in on a black settlement that thrived for several years.


Yes, y'all, it turns out the Happy Land was real. After leaving the only home she knew, Louella, her husband, and 30 other free folks traveled to the Carolinas to establish a new beginning for themselves. Not only was this story a learning experience about the unfairness of the American Justice system, but it was also layered with the struggle for women's rights, equality, identity, poverty after the war, and other glaring issues throughout the story. 


The stars of the show in this novel were Louella, her husband William, and his brother Robert. Each character had a strong personality that showed a side of history in their eyes. Louella was a determined, stubborn, bullheaded woman who wanted change. After witnessing tragedy after tragedy, the feeling of hate eventually consumed her. Though she was very outspoken and was the catalyst for the move to a better place, I don't think she got the real credit she deserved in her historical spot. Her husband, William, is the darker son of his enslaver daddy, who moved as if change would be handed to him. I'm not going to lie; his character annoyed me. He was one of the luckier enslaved people who was taught to read and write yet was oblivious to how black people were treated in the world. As a preacher, his approach to the events of the world came off as, as long as we hold our end of the bargain, they'll do the same … right? The more complicated character of the book is Robert. He was the lighter-skinned son of the enslaver who passed for white. His privilege was outstanding, and he used it for personal gains that made him untrustworthy, but somehow, in his way, good intentions were there.


Overall, I rated this book 3-stars. I wanted more depth to the story. I understand The American Queen is considered a Christian title, but it's missing the pure rawness out of it. It was almost to a point where it came off as young and stage-playish. It reminded me of early Tyler Perry plays, minus Madea. I understand the story was to enlighten us about a thriving black settlement during the 1860s and the "crowning" of the first black American King and Queen, but if you're going to talk about it, talk about it. There's no need to sugarcoat the treatment we already know about.

The American Queen debuts January 30, 2024

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