Review by Booklist Review
This historical fiction account illuminates the extraordinary life of real-estate magnate Josephine "Jo" N. Leary, a pioneering woman freed from slavery and always reaching for the stars. After emancipation, Jo Napoleon marries Archer "Sweety" Leary and begins a life of freedom, ambition, and fortitude. Together, the Learys open a barbershop, and Jo kicks off her own goals of owning land and building an empire to pass on to her descendants. They have two daughters, Flora and Florence, whom they raise with the help of family in Edenton, North Carolina. Jo faces blatant racism, sexism, and the cultural expectations of married women in a small town that is still reeling with the new realities of life after the Civil War. She challenges the status quo, though, and demonstrates to her daughters the values of hard work and perseverance in a world intent on keeping her in the home. Her inspiring story transcends one life in the years after emancipation to encompass all women who take the chance to secure their own happiness.
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Romance writer Alexander (Back to Your Love) offers an informative if clunky story inspired by the true story of Josephine N. Leary, who was born into slavery and went on to build a real estate empire in North Carolina. At nine, spunky Josephine devours Shakespeare, does her chores, and remembers being enslaved as a little girl. As a teen, she meets her husband, Archer "Sweety" Leary, while training to be a barber. They marry and set up their own barbershop, which, with clever negotiation, Josephine buys outright using wedding money from the white man who fathered her. Thus begins her dream to invest in property and make her own money. While running various businesses, Josephine raises two daughters, instilling in them her love of reading, education, and independence. Josephine's ambition and headstrong nature serves her well, but it causes constant friction with Sweety, such as when she insists on buying a house ("I vowed, from the day I was freed, never to live at the whim of another white man"). Some of the dialogue is clichéd ("I'm no spring chicken") or anachronistic ("It is what it is"), but Alexander's exhaustive research and the ample historical detail do justice to the material. As a novel it's fairly unremarkable, but the author does a nice job illuminating the life of an extraordinary historical figure. Agent: Sarah Younger, Nancy Yost Literary. (Feb.)Correction: An earlier version of this review misspelled the author's last name.
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A fictional biography of one of North Carolina's first female African American real estate entrepreneurs. Josephine Leary's home life is at the center of this novel, while her real estate investment business is conducted mainly offstage. The main conflict is with her husband, Archer, aka Sweety, making for a somewhat pedestrian tale of occasional domestic strife. Although he seemed to appreciate Jo's business acumen before they married, Sweety needles her about her work outside the home, which is, at first, mainly in their family business, a barbershop in Edenton, North Carolina. Sweety resents the fact that Jo has her own money--derived from income properties she began buying with a wedding gift of $500 from her father, a White former Confederate officer--and when she spends it on their family, for example buying a new buggy, buying their rental house, and buying their barbershop, he feels shamed as a man. Which does not prevent him, as Josephine's first-person narration reminds us often, from splurging on expensive whisky. Jo, her grandmother, mother, and brother were all formerly enslaved on plantations in North Carolina. Now (the narrative spans the 1870s to the early 1890s), they are all doing well in Edenton, a prosperous community that appears relatively free of racial strife. Jo is never fazed by the racism she does encounter, not to mention the sexism. A White seller refuses to deal with her on her first property purchase, until "his greed outweighs his prejudice." She dismisses racial slurs by White women as a product of poor upbringing. The worst racist aggression--three drunken former Confederates disrupt church Juneteenth festivities with a wagonload of rotten tomatoes--is investigated by the local sheriff only at the behest of Sweety, who passes for White. Although Jo's achievements are certainly worthy of being celebrated, her relatively obstacle-free path to prosperity, as well as her fictional doppelgänger's total lack of vulnerability, saps the narrative of tension. We're left with a pleasant panorama of middle-class small-town life in the late 19th century. A heroine who plays the hand she's dealt--nothing more, nothing less. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.