Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Pages: 624
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy. From her earliest days, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France. And it is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that she learns of her father’s liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Patsy too has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé, William Short, a staunch abolitionist intent on a career in Europe. Heartbroken at having to decide between being William’s wife or a devoted daughter, she returns to Virginia with her father and marries a man of his choosing, raising eleven children of her own. Yet as family secrets come to light during her father's presidency, Patsy must again decide how much she will sacrifice to protect his reputation, in the process defining not just Jefferson’s political legacy, but that of the nation he founded." 

Patsy Jefferson, the eldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson, is the focus of this lengthy familial saga.  At  a young age, her mother dies and this leaves her father in a state of despair.  Patsy, being the oldest child, takes over many responsibilities with the main focus being on hiding the fact her father is severely depressed over her mother's untimely death.  She is left to pick up the pieces and slowly, her father returns to his former self.  Jefferson becomes an envoy in Paris and Patsy, his "right hand man," comes along leaving her two younger sisters at home with their aunt.  In Paris, Patsy sort of grows her wings. Not only does she become very educated and refined, but she also starts to grow feelings for.  But Thomas Jefferson hides many secrets and Patsy tries to hide them from the prying public.  Once they return to Monticello in Virginia, things don't quiet down.  There's marriage, children, and scandal after scandal all while trying to protect and serve her father.  America's First Daughter is an interesting historical saga that will make readers wonder how Patsy endured the many ups and downs of her life. This book is a history nerd's dream.

Patsy is a complex character in America's First Daughter. At first, I truly felt for her because she becomes the "mistress" of her house quickly and has to cover many things up for her father.  There's the issue of his affair with his slave, Sally Hemings, who is actually Patsy's mother's sister.  Cue the scandal.  Jefferson has many children with Sally and it creates not only tension in the family, but also the fact that they have this huge secret looming over them constantly.  As Patsy grows up, she experiences things that some girls can only dream of, such as being a debutante in Paris or meeting important leaders.  Like most girls, she encounters heartbreak and falls in love again. This time with Tom Randolph, who at first, I thought was a decent guy, but that quickly changes.  As Patsy's family grows and her children become adults, there's even more scandal within the Randolph and Jefferson family. I felt like there were constant issues of alcoholism, physical abuse, affairs, crazy parents, and the loss of inheritances.  Who would have thought this time period could bring so much drama?

Since America's First Daughter follows Patsy as a child all the way to middle-age, readers will become attached to her as well as her family.  I admired the way that she was very dedicated to her father, but at times, I felt she was too loyal.  She gave up a lot in her life to always be there for him and their relationship seemed really co-dependent at times.  Nonetheless, it was really fascinating.

America's First Daughter is very well-researched. It included so much information; readers will be able to tell immediately that Dray and Kamoie really worked hard to make it as authentic as possible. Also, each chapter starts off with an excerpt from Thomas Jefferson's letters, which was a nice touch.  My only complaint was the length. Some parts dragged on quite a bit and probably could have been excluded.  

However, history buffs will love and appreciate this untold tale about an important American woman.  I know I did! 


  1. I've been curious about this novel ever since I saw it on your blog, so knowing you've enjoyed it cemented my determination to get a copy. I've always been intrigued about the scandals surrounding Jefferson's affair with his slave, so it sounds like this one is a good interpretation of that. Lovely review, Christina!

    1. Definitely! It is from his daughter's point of view, but still covers that whole aspect of Jefferson's life and how it impacted his family. I hope you get to read it soon! Thanks for visiting, Joy!

  2. This sounds fascinating and not at all how I'd picture one of the Founding Fathers. I think reading the story from his daughter's perspective would make it even more interesting. You can't help but feel sorry for her.

    Great review!

    1. It was definitely fascinating and like you said, I really felt for Patsy. Her life was very interesting though...I think you'd like this one, Christina. Thanks for visiting!


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