America’s First Daughter

Written by Laura Kamoie Stephanie Dray
Review by Viviane Crystal

On her deathbed, the mother of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson asks her to take care of her father, Thomas, and makes him promise never to take another wife. They both unwittingly agree, never realizing the momentous consequences to follow. Initially, Thomas remains sunk into grief, with Patsy there to pull him back from the abyss of madness.

Their story continues in Paris, where Thomas serves as ambassador to France. Here Patsy comes of age in the middle of the 1780s, a time when France’s tempestuous, brutal revolution is forming as a result of its king and queen’s denial of the chaos throughout their country. Patsy gradually falls in love with William Short, a young Virginian who worships Patsy’s father but decries his ownership of slaves; he is unable to understand Patsy’s unwavering devotion to her father’s political passions. At the same time, Patsy realizes her father is following his “baser instincts” when it comes to women, especially his slave, Sally Hemings.

The starvation and brutality fueling French anger are juxtaposed against the glamour and social galas of Paris. Immediately before the rage of the Jacobins is unleashed, the Jeffersons return to Monticello in Virginia. There, a whole new story evolves: family dysfunction, financial distress, Patsy’s marriage, and political rivalries before, during, and after Jefferson’s presidency.

This novel’s essence shows Patsy, as an adult, prevailing amid problems, all connected to her father’s massive presence – which inspires some but also inadvertently diminishes other politicians and family members. This is a stunning historical novel that will keep you up late, hoping the engaging story never ends. Highly, highly recommended!