An Unlikely Friendship


Mary Todd suffers through the loss of her beloved mother and endures the outsider status in her father’s new family, but is privileged enough to reach her childhood ambition to live in the White House. Elizabeth Keckley (“Lizzy”) has her problems with her father’s present family too – it owns her. She’s granted privileges, but they afford no protection when the family’s Virginia soil can no longer sustain a tobacco crop, or her clergyman half-brother decides she needs to be “broken.” Her goal becomes being able to buy herself and her young son out of slavery. Both women succeed, meet through Lizzy’s dressmaking abilities, and form the unlikely friendship of the book’s title.

After a somewhat stilted and anachronistic opening (“You’ve always been there for me,” Mary tells Lizzy) with both women in middle age at the momentous time of the Lincoln assassination, the book moves on to the first- person narration of Mary’s, then Lizzy’s, childhood. Here it picks up power and momentum as both women acquire the needs, attitudes and attributes that fuel their lives. At the end of each personal narrative, the author brings us up to the date of their meeting. Lacking the strength of their self-told sections, it seems the title is not well served, as the women interact very little. Ages 10-14.

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