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216 of 222 people found the following review helpful
Dolen Perkins-Valdez delivers the gripping tale of primary characters, Lizzy, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu's, lives as slave maids and mistresses during the mid-19th century. Although from separate southern plantations, the mistresses vacation with their white masters to a free-state resort in Ohio each summer, forming a sisterly bond and developing relationships with each other.

Suffering emotional, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their "owners," the women grow weary, often dreaming of their and their children's freedom. While each of the women has a unique relationship with her respective master, Lizzy, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu share the bond of slavery and mistreatment. Despite the seeming perks each wench receives over all the other slaves at their home plantations, each woman still finds herself living in misery. This story brings readers into the heart-wrenching decisions, painstaking moments and emotional turmoil endured by each of the women as they struggle to save themselves spiritually, physically and emotionally. They walk a fine line of favor with their masters. Should the women stay, or should they run, when the opportunity is staring them right in the face?

This story is unlike any other story I've read about slave women and children. Yes, I've heard the stories and knew these type things happened but never have I been drawn into the minds of the women that have lived this life. Themes of particular interest to me while reading this story were the relationship between the master's wife, Fran, and Lizzy. Lizzy's character is also of the most interest to me in that she was quite indecisive. I understood her indecision. I felt these women's pain and suffering. I also acknowledge the author's underlying message of the possible cause and evolvement of black-on-black prejudices.

After reading this story, I am even more deeply appreciative of the women before me. They suffered tremendously and if it weren't for them I would not be living the life I am today. Any time you read a story and you feel the emotions jumping from the pages, you've got a page turner. The history behind the Tawawa House and what the land is actually used for today is also quite interesting. I would have never known had I not read this book.

Based on this novel, I would read a second offering from Ms. Perkins-Valdez.
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2010
I could not put this book down. Rarely does a book capture my attention the way Wench did. After I started reading this book I left my chores undone, ignored the work on my desk and stayed up late at night reading. I have such mixed feelings about the pleasure I took in this book because it covers a horrible topic. Yet the author took such care telling the stories of four slave women forced into sexual relationships with their master. You must not miss the stories of Lizzie, Sugar, Reenie and Mawu. They share their lives with the reader and you come to care deeply about them before the reading is done. What the white masters did to these women is terrible yet the women handle it grace and strength that I myself do not have. My only hope is that the author plans a sequel because the story is just too good to end.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2010
Dr. Dolen Perkins-Valdez does a great job portraying the setting and the characters - providing details that bring the story to life, without being superlative. As I was reading, I shed several tears. I smiled some too - and, many times, I felt a host of mixed emotions concurrently. Perkins-Valdez does a great job of showing the complexity of humanity in her characters - allowing her readers to think about themselves in a very real manner. The novel compelled me to think about several issues in more intricate ways. The words led me to think about history and slavery, but also love and strength, in subtle yet powerful ways. I read a lot, and I have written a good deal too. I know that this much vitality in a novel is hard to find. I found Wench to be very well-done. I had a hard time putting it down. My only complaint is that I wasn't ready for it to end.
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84 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2010
The premise of novel about slave women set in resort with this history was wonderful - the writing was just a shame. Characters black and white were poorly sketched and the author did nothing to explore the vast class system among slaves.

A favored mistress from Louisiana would have likely been French-speaking and likely well schooled in fashion and flirtation. A slave owned by a Tennessee farmer, would have had a completely different background. It would have been wonderful to see these differences explored - or at least acknowledged by the author. Instead we just get cardboard cutouts.

This is Alice Walker meets Harlequin.

For truly wonderful books that explore black culture in the same time period, read Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January series for fully fleshed out and historically rich stories of slave era black Americans both male and female
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
I have mixed emotions about this book. Overall it was a decent read, but I was expecting a little more. I thought the characters could have been developed a little more. Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu didn't have much depth to them. The only character that I felt like I really got to know was Lizzie because she narrated most of the story and the reader was provided with more details about her life unlike the other ladies. From reading the jacket of the book, I thought there was going to be some laugh out loud moments but I didn't experience any of those. I was a little disappointed by the ending. I was left completely unsatisfied. I guess I wanted a little more closure especially with Mawu's character. The whole spirit sister thing between Lizzie and Mawu that the author threw in at the end left a little to be desired especially since it totally didn't make sense to me. I guess it was little weird to me and felt as though it was a total distraction since we never found out exactly what happened to Mawu after she was found. There were several loose ends. Why did Reenie's Master/brother give her over to the hotel manager? Was there some type of deal made? I would have liked to know. There were several others that a few of the other reviewers have already mentioned.

On the front cover of the book there's a quote by USA Today that states, "Readers entranced by The Help will be equally riveted by Wench. A deeply moving, beautifully written novel told from the heart." I'm sorry but I didn't find that to be the case. I've read The Help and enjoyed that book tremendously. Don't get me wrong, Wench was written beautifully but personally for me it's not on the same caliber as The Help. The Help had more depth to the story and the characters were flushed out a little more. I also didn't understand What Glory brought to the story other than being a guide through the woods. Read the story and judge it for yourself. Your opinion of it may be totally different:)

I want to forewarn some readers that some of the material in the book is shocking. It may be a little hard to stomach for some readers. It can get really graphic at times.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2011
This was a story of four slave women owned and used by their Masters. Enslaved by them with no way out. Being used for the children they made with these Men their slave owners, "Masters". Every summer for four summers straight they met in a resort town in Ohio before the Civil War started. Southern slave owners would bring their black mistresses and enjoy the summer months among free blacks and slaves of the North.

The four women became close as they all shared the same inevitable life with their slave owners. Three of the women seemingly content to live their lives as they have, one of them ready to break free from the chains that enslaved her. Her influence on the other women lead to death, mistrust, self doubt, self preservation, and freedom.

It was sad, touching, empowering, and it made me angry and hurt my heart to know that these men would keep women like chattel love them one minute and then chain them up the next to make sure they wouldn't run away. They would take them to a place where they were seen as equals as a couple, but at the least bit of trouble they were beaten and abused. Because they were nothing but slaves.

I wonder if I could have lived at that time. How strong would I have been? Would my children who could "pass as white" one day living in the masters house and then at the first sign of trouble be sent back to the slave quarters to live like the rest, could they have survived?

Could I have left my children behind and headed to a life of freedom with out them? Or would I have stayed trying to give my children the best I could with what I had? Questions that still haunt me after reading this book.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2010
Is it possible to love a book that explores the difficult issues of slavery, violence, dehumanization, and loss? Yes! Reading this book was very timely for me. I just finished teaching a US History class in which one of my students was adamant that there were slaves and their masters who fell in love and that their masters didn't exploit them because they loved each other. I tried to explain that such a relationship would be a lot more complicated than that--that issues of power and powerlessness, of social acceptability, and so on would make things a lot more difficult than anything we could imagine in our lives today. This book portrays the master-slave relationship in a realistic and very believable way that truly took my breath away.

Wench explores the emotional and psychological complexities that slave mistresses faced during the Antebellum period in the American South. They were given favored status, sometimes their children were given special treatment by their fathers/masters, and there were probably some who even believed that they loved their masters, as main character Lizzie did. But they also occupied a position on the plantation that could be quite lonely. They didn't quite fit in with the other slaves because they received special treatment, and they were not on the same level as their white masters.

Much of this story takes place at Tawawa House, an Ohio resort where a number of slave owners vacationed with their slave mistresses (a location that actually existed). It is in this place that these women finally feel like they fit in somewhere because they can relate to each other and are able to bond based on their shared experience. But even their shared experience varies as each woman is not treated the same way by their master. Being on holiday in a free state of course brings thoughts of escape and freedom closer to the surface. And that was the second struggle the women faced--the decision of whether to run away or not. For some that decision was easy to make. For others, the decision was a difficult one, as it would mean leaving their children behind and risking their lives in the process.

Although the reader gets to know the four women and their struggles, the story mainly revolves around Lizzie and her remarkable transformation. In the beginning, she doesn't even want to consider escape because of the love she feels for her master and for her children. She hopes one day to convince him to free their children from slavery. But as time passes, she becomes disillusioned with the life she and her children are living. She sees the evils that other masters perpetrate on their slaves and she starts to wonder if she has been wrong. Eventually, she begins to consider escape, but you'll have to read the book to find out if she actually does or not.

This is an excellent book. Ms. Perkins-Valdez has done a superb job in her research. The historical period and the people portrayed in it feel authentic. The writing is beautifully descriptive. I don't know what else I can say--I liked everything about this book. I highly recommend it.

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book by the author to review for a virtual book tour stop at my blog.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
When I first started WENCH, it was like trying to read a book in a foreign language.

Yes, there was slave dialect used, but that isn't what I'm talking about (the dialect did not make it difficult to read as some books set in that era do).

What I mean is that while I read each scene I had to work to actively process what I was reading -- to frame it so that I could understand it.

WENCH is artfully told, beginning in the summer of 1852. We are introduced to a group of slaves who have accompanied their masters to a resort in Ohio. Just as we get to know these characters and a bit about their masters, the next section flashes back to 1842 - 1849. Lizzie is definitely the protagonist of this novel, and this flashback addresses the most curious of the relationships -- that between Lizzie and Master Drayle. Does she really love him? Does he really love her?

The entire novel has this unexpressed theme in the background: What does the institution of slavery do to the slaves (which actually got me thinking to what the implications still are 150 years later) -- their feelings about white people and themselves, their motivation, their entrapment?

The next two sections take place in the "present" summers of 1853 and 1854 as the slaves return to the resort.

This book has been compared to the Pulitzer Price winning The Known World. Yes, it's similar, in that fact and fiction meld seamlessly and convincingly, but I found WENCH to be a much better story -- more original, more compelling, and with more likable characters.

Content note: There is fairly explicit talk about sex, since it was a very real part of the master/slave relationships, as well as some violence (beatings). All of this is intrinsic to the story, but I know it's content that some people avoid (and might not expect in this kind of book).

Great book -- 4.5 stars
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2010
My book club chose "Wench" as our October read. I joined a book club to be introduced to fiction I never would have picked up and "Wench" is one such book because I'm not typically interested in historical fiction. When I do read fiction, I prefer contemporary. I also prefer novels where women are more empowered and not victimized. So women as slaves don't ring my chimes. That said, "Wench" is a solid debut and I'd call it a "good read."

I'd also call it more plot-driven then character driven. That is why I was disappointed in the last section of the book (about four or five short chapters) from a plot perspective. It felt like a rushed ending to an otherwise solid first novel. I felt that one of the main characters, Lizzie, took a big leap - in terms of her attitude - when that shift had not yet been adequately foreshadowed by the author. I think the book would have been better-served if the author had taken more time with the character/behavioral arc of Lizzie in particularly.

Also, I sensed a shift in the writing, too in the last section of the book (the book is divided into four chrono sections). Specifically, the author has a clean yet lyrical style and the last few chapters almost felt "draft-like." It did not have the same poetry as the rest of the book. Perhaps a publisher was breathing down her back to "get it done" and "meet the deadline." It was almost as if I had picked up a different book by a different author but the dust jacket had "Wench" on it.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a solid writer who knows her craft. I'd like her to take some time and really milk that craft in a way that I think she is more than ably capable of. But a great start to a writing career.

Gina Greenlee, author of Hush Life, a fiction debut
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2011
I read a lot of great reviews and thought I would give this book a try. This book was not a good read at all. The only good thing about the book was the premise/plot that was butcher in making the story.

There were 3 major problems: 1) physical descriptions of the characters. 2) the development of the characters. 3) the explanation of the relationships between characters. You can't leave these elements to the imagination.

The physical descriptions: There were too many inconsistencies. Marwu was long and lean then at the end she was short. Also, I have a real problem with the author using "mud" as an adjective to describe the skin complexion of Lizzie (the main character) and her sister. She really didn't do any justice in describing these women and what made them attractive black slave women. I couldn't get a good picture of what Drayle looked like - the description of him being built like a slave but he was white, blue eyed and blonde hair doesn't cut it.

The character development: There was no real development of the key characters (Lizzie, Drayle and Fran). We needed to know what made them the characters they were. There was no solid background information. Also there were other characters that look as if they were just thrown in (i.e. Gloria). It seemed to be too many characters and not much of an explanation about them to back up the plot correctly. The slave women at the resort (Lizzie's friends) could have had more detail in regards to their emotions and status on their plantations. Marwu's character was poorly developed in a sense that the pieces that made her connected to Lizzie were left out or vague. She was supposed to be connected to Lizzie and you don't even see it until the very end -which ruined the ending. In my opinion, the situation at the resort could have been a separate story/novel altogether-not a botched detail.
**Alert: spoiler information***
The relationships: In the story, Lizzie, the main character, was "in love" with her master. There were some details to develop that premise but it didn't do it well. You really didn't get a strong sense of the connection between the two of them. I questioned what made Lizzie different from all the other slaves on the plantation to drive the attraction between her and Drayle? You certainly didn't see any emotional connection or attachment between Drayle and Fran, and they were husband and wife; it was almost as if they were roommates. I know that women were not valued at the time but what where was the bond between Fran and her husband? How did Fran not able to bear children affect her emotionally towards her marriage? All these questions needed to be answered in the story and not in a vague way. The relationship or bond with Drayle and his children from Lizzie was scantily established. I just couldn't connect with the characters and I really wanted to. I know the novel is based on historical facts but there has to be a good detailed foundation to a fictional novel. The bottom line more details to develop the story.
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