Publication Date: October 4, 2014
In Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? by Yael Politis, Charlene Conner has just graduated from the University of Michigan. Her mother has recently died and her father fled from Dearborn to Grand Rapids. The task of preparing the family home for sale falls to Charlene. Charlene has long felt a connection with her great-great-great aunt Olivia. When a lawyer shows up at her door with information about Olivia, will Charlene find out whatever happened to Mourning Free? Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? is the third novel in the Olivia series.
The author gave me this novel in exchange for my review.
I reviewed the first novel in the series, Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? and called it vivid. While somehow missing the second novel in the series, Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? easily stands on its own while calling back to characters from the first novel in a way that is clever and enhances the 1960s setting.
When we meet Charlene she’s a bit lost in grief and guilt. Her heart is broken over the loss of her mother and seeming abandonment by her father. Feelings of guilt arise from the relief she feels that her mother is gone. Her medicines are still in the refrigerator and the awful hospital bed is gone. Complicating her relationship with her father is that he seems to be trying to throw her in the path of Reeves Valenti, the man she was expected to marry and chose instead to focus on her education. Oliva operated a boarding house and helped slaves escape to freedom across the Detroit River to Canada. When a lawyer shows up at Charlene’s door with an additional diary authored by the beloved Oliva who Charlene has idolized for years, she wonders what her ancestor thought of a world in which young people seem to focus on the next high.
Charlene is a character perfectly placed in the 1960s. She’s not into the drug or free love culture, but she’s in flux in a way that this novel could not have taken place in any other era. The reader keenly feels the ring of the 60s in everything from appliances to environment to expectations. If you don’t respect the past, it’s just history and Charlene appreciates the contributions of those who have come before. The race riots of the late 60s are something that we heard about as children but never felt the impact. Politis reminds us of how hostile and segregated those times were and yet how intertwined with hope in the embodiment of Charlie.
There is a likeness of spirit between Olivia and her great-niece that readers who enjoyed the earlier book will appreciate. There are minor errors that nagged at this reader a bit. Normally, I can move on from a slight typo but have long been bothered by people who add an “s” to words (i.e. “Fords,” “Meijers”). I must say, however; having grown up in the general area where this novel takes place, that “s” is a uniquely metro-Detroit add-on.
The plot of Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? flows well and Politis mixes the eras through which she traverses well. In this third book, Politis’ comfort level is evident. She has a very clear story in her mind and that clear story is conveyed to the reader. If you are a reader of historical fiction, you will enjoy the story of a woman changed by history. The story is truly one of Charlene and her connection to the past and investment in her ancestry.
The story has a distinct feel of a complete story but one not completely exorcised of its author leaving hope for future novels. Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? is an exemplary historical novel and one that will stay with the reader. Read our review of Olivia Mourning: The first book of the Olivia Series by Yael Politis.
Yael Politis grew up in Dearborn, Michigan and has lived for many years in Israel. Politis has also written The Lonely Tree and the second novel in the Olivia series, The Way the World Is (The Olivia Series).
Read an excerpt and buy Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? by Yael Politis on