In 1770s Boston, a prosperous merchant’s daughter, Eliza Boylston, lives a charmed life—until war breaches the walls of the family estate and forces her to live in a world in which wealth can no longer protect her.
As the chaos of the Revolutionary War tears her family apart, Eliza finds herself drawn to her uncle’s slave, John Watkins. Their love leads to her exile in Braintree, Massachusetts, home to radicals John and Abigail Adams and Eliza’s midwife sister-in-law, Lizzie Boylston. But even as the uprising takes hold, Eliza can’t help but wonder whether a rebel victory will grant her and John the most basic of American rights.
Why I liked it: Our Own Country is centered around the events leading up to and during the Revolutionary War and is set in Massachusetts in the towns of Cambridge, Portsmouth, and Braintree. Besides focusing on the country’s fight for independence, the novel also tackles the issues of slavery and women’s role in society. The lives of famous historical figures, such as John and Abigail Adams, are interwoven with the fictional characters.
The novel is much more than a coming of age story; Eliza, the main character, undergoes a complete transformation. Eliza begins the novel as a superficial young girl but her changes begin when two of her family’s slaves are sold. Further change occurs after Eliza’s younger sister Maria becomes ill and dies and Eliza’s older brother Jeb is killed fighting for independence.
Eliza begins to come into her own independence as her parents falter. Eliza learns how to fish and shoot a rifle to help provide food for her family. Eliza is encouraged by her sister in law Lizzie and Lizzie’s friend Martha Miller, who live out in the countryside serving as midwifes. When Eliza bears a child with one of her uncle's slaves, her mother turns against her but her dying father leaves her a house in the Barbados as if he foresaw her need for a place for her biracial family.
Classroom application: The novel is part of a series, one or all of which could be used as companions to a unit on early American history and the Revolutionary War. The novels could also be used in literature circles focused on novels dealing with women's rights and roles in society.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Our Own Country for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.