Gently, not wanting to crush it, she lifted the eggshell from the box. It was no heavier than a fluff of down. She held it up to the light and turned the eggshell this way and that, appreciating its vivid color. She marveled at the miniscule fissures that revealed the struggle of the chick who had bravely fought its way through the barrier of one tiny, confining world into a much larger, freer one.”
This observation by main character Olivia Aberdeen encapsulates the theme of Tamera Alexander’s newest release To Whisper Her Name. Set in the postbellum South, the story brings to life the struggles of a defeated people determined to rebuild, a slave community poised to embrace new hope, a young widow desperate to find freedom, and a weary soldier eager to chase a dream. The confluence of these desires carries waves of conflict and change onto the idyllic backdrop of Nashville’s historic Belle Meade Plantation.
An intricately woven tale, this novel highlights Tamera Alexander’s gift for creating relatable characters who evoke sympathy and inspire courage. Their struggle is genuine, and their hopes and fears so palpable that the reader cannot help wanting to see them succeed. A skillful balance exists between hero and heroine, an excellent mix of static and dynamic characters. Ridley is the anchor, the steadfast visionary with the discipline to forge a path never before trodden while Olivia is the ebb and flow of a steady tide, moving slowly outward only to be drawn inexorably back to shore. Her choice, in the end, is deciding which shore she will call home.
A southern lady in every sense of the term, Olivia Aberdeen struggles to find contentment in a world that mandates she rely on the wisdom and judgment of the men around her. With grace and dignity, Olivia survived the abuses of her late husband until he was lynched as a traitor to the South. Carrying with her the sting of his disgrace, she’s forced to seek refuge with family friend Elizabeth Harding. Though thankful for being welcomed into their home, Olivia realizes she must submit to the decisions of yet another man, General William Giles Harding, who, though kinder than her husband, still insists on having the final say over her future.
Though uncomfortable with the constraints society has placed upon her, Olivia argues little against them, not because she agrees with them, but because she has no conception of what life would be like without them. Gracious and poised in even the most extreme circumstances, Olivia still silently wonders if there will “ever come a time when a man [isn’t] in charge of her life.”
That’s where Ridley Adam Cooper comes in. Though a native son of the South, Ridley has a different perspective on honor and tradition. Having fought for the Union, he would be considered a traitor and be forced to leave Belle Meade if anyone knew the truth, but he doesn’t plan on staying that long. His time there is only a stopover on his journey to a future that’s as fresh as the untamed West. It’s through his eyes that Olivia begins to see that there is more to life than the tiny, confining world she’s always known.
Persuasive and playful, Ridley coaxes Olivia out of her shell and into a world full of possibilities, encouraging her to speak her mind, face her fears, and make decisions based more on her own judgment than others’ expectations. At one point in the novel, Ridley offers Olivia a gift no man ever had—he allows her the freedom to choose her next step: “I want you to know that you can do this,” he assures her. “You’re able even if you choose not to. There’s a world of difference between the two.”
Under Ridley’s tender guidance, Olivia finds the courage to truly live and the freedom to fully love, bringing this inspiring narrative to a most satisfactory end. Two-time Christy Award winner Tamera Alexander does not disappoint. Well-researched and expertly written, To Whisper Her Name is the quintessential love story, sure to claim its place among the books that you’ll want to read over and over again.
You can find out more about Tamera Alexander and Belle Meade Plantation on her website.