The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This historical novel is slow-paced and thoughtful, but will win you over in the end, especially if you are a woman between 50-65, or a young feminist.
Brill gives us the story of a privileged and protected young woman who nevertheless comes up against the realities of being female in the 19th Century.
The protagonist, Hannah Price, is modeled after Maria Mitchell, America's first female astronomer. Mitchell burned her private letters, and that set Brill to wondering and writing not a fictionalized biography, but true re-imagining.
Hannah’s had the benefit of scientific training from her father and his friends, but even if she achieves her dream of being the first to find a comet and winning recognition from the astronomy community and a prize from the King of Denmark, marriage means she will lose control of the money and her choices.
The Civil War looms and Hannah’s Quaker community is becoming less welcoming to strangers and those who don’t fit in. Though Quakers profess the equality of all, male and female, slave and free, Nantucket schools were segregated when whispers of abolition started. When Hannah starts teaching a young black sailor advanced mathematics, the tongues start to wag. She does develop a crush on Isaac, in the end opening both her heart and her mind. But this is not a romance—it’s Hannah’s coming of age. Confronted by the realities of church, government, and family that comprise her life, can she dare to forge her own path with the strength of her own desires—once she figures out what they are?
Brill portrays the dawning of passion beautifully in a book that is not about race, but about freedom: of religion, of thought, of opportunity.
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