The Sugar Camp Quilt
Dorothea Granger lives in antebellum Pennsylvania. Her parents are poor relations of her Uncle Jacob and work on his farm, which they hope to inherit. Dorothea’s family had belonged to a utopian community of transcendental Christians before Elm Creek flooded and scattered them. They expressed abolitionist sympathies and allowed children to run free. In contrast, Jacob is strict and humorless. He orders Dorothea to make him a quilt of a specific pattern and she obeys, mystified. After his death, she decodes the symbols at the maple sugaring camp, and sets out on an adventure.
The author gives Dorothea a personal stake in the slavery issue, through the danger posed by slave-catchers. The plot races along, with summaries interspersed between full-bodied scenes. Dorothea has admirable morals but a sharp tongue; she speaks her mind. Chiaverini throws in a dash of description here and there, but most often tells her story in spare prose using dialogue.
Each character is true to life and complex, doing the unexpected. The novel has a strong narrative drive and vivid scenes of those involved with the Underground Railroad in conflict with local bigots. It fills a void, showing both how the Underground operated and the courage of ordinary people.