The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd is a historical fiction novel based on the real life of Eliza Lucas, the indigo girl of the south. The novel begins, and journeys on by following the desperate endeavors of Eliza Lucas to grow indigo, an endeavor deemed impossible on their South Carolina land to save her struggling family plantations from bankruptcy. The daring woman strikes desperate deals, maneuvers around cunning foes, and even sweeps gracefully through balls clad in silk and followed by mystery.
I began listening to this book from Audible just out of sheer boredom (I mean, when you’ve listened to all your audio books over five plus times in a row, you start to yearn for something a little more unexpected) and I was surprised by how well done the plot, the history, and the vivid descriptions of the indigo process were done. As the British say, I was gobsmacked.
Why You Should Read
Eliza Lucas is a memorable and positive role model for both girls and boys to remember from days past. Her stubbornness often described by others, including her mother, suitors, and farmhands was really the will to pursue her dream of being the first to grow indigo in the south. And it turned out to be not just a dream, but the fate of the Carolinas. She was also unafraid to do what was right, despite the pushback she received, kind towards others, including her family’s slaves, and unbending towards others’ expectations, whether they were about indigo dye or a cantankerous suitor. While I wasn’t taken in immediately by Eliza (How many strong willed, fearless protagonists are there in the world right now?) she was persistent, and in the end, soaked my heart with affection for someone who drove hard to achieve the impossible.
I was refreshed to read a book set in the 1700’s that didn’t deal solely with the uprising of the American colonies, and in the South that didn’t deal primarily with slavery. Though both are important events, I like reading books and series where a new viewpoint is taken that isn’t normally explored. The historical description of the time period and scenery, too, was done to perfection. I am not an expert on the 1740s in South Carolina, but I can tell the author put in more than her heart and soul when writing this novel. Everything from the indigo making process to the way they heated their beds (hot bricks warmed in the fire) were expounded, and really shaped the world of Eliza’s Spanish moss clad plantation life in up and coming Charleston.
Finally, the plot was astoundingly well done. I’m usually a good judge of where a plot goes, like a Sherlock plot detective, but this one caught me completely off guard. You can’t see through the murky swamp water till you’re on the other side, and by Jove, was it a spectacularly smashing conclusion to a well rounded novel.
This book, however, isn’t all bloomin’ blue flowers. There is some moderate swearing (No use of the f word, but still some strong language used from time to time), references to sex, a miscarriage with some description (though not horribly graphic), abuse, violence towards slaves, sickness, and death (though the two main deaths are not visual).
There are also some feministic ideals I picked up on during reading. The ways some of the men of the Indigo Girl were portrayed and Eliza’s reactions to them were down casting towards men and put me off just a smidge. However, since the author was telling a true story, I was able to look past the mirage since many of the male characters portrayed in a negative light were or could’ve had very similar reactions, especially since there were plenty of righteous, intelligent, integrity filled men in Eliza’s life, from her father to her far neighbor and friend Mr. Pinkney.
Because of some of the descriptions, mentions of sex, and the inntenisity of some of the more troubling scenes, I would suggest that this book be for teens and up.
Is It Shelf Worthy?
Yes! As far as historical fiction for teens go, this book bleeds well into the hearts of its readers, turning the very depths blue as the indigo plant Eliza so reverently sought to save her family. Eliza Lucas is a heroine who shines forth throughout the ages as a pioneering businesswoman and challenger of the cultural ideals that plagued the just budding nation around the 1740s. The plot, though set in the stone of history long ago, was better crafted than the ancient labyrinth of Greek mythology. And readers will beyond a shadow of Carolina oak be transported back to a time of horse drawn buggies and fields of rice, slave uprisings and windswept balls glittering with silver, gold, and blue. If ever on the lookout for a good historical novel to read or learn from, I suggest this novel of daring deeds and budding indigo leaves.