An Unlikely Friendship

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2008

By Ann Rinaldi, Reviewed by Ashley Johnson

An Unlikely Friendship book cover

An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi; Harcourt
Children’s Books: New York, 2007; $17

Imagine a lonely white girl, raised in a wealthy and prestigious family, who lived her dream of becoming First Lady in the White House. Now, imagine a black girl, born into slavery mistreated and overworked, who in the end was able to purchase her own freedom. Two women, different in skin color and social status, yet similar in their persistence to achieve their goals. In the novel An Unlikely Friendship, author Ann Rinaldi describes the unlikely yet unique friendship between two historical women, Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley.

In the beginning, I was excited how Ann Rinaldi immediately drew me into the historical happenings that occurred on Friday, April 14, 1865. The Civil War was finally over, which brought an end to slavery Suddenly, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Mary, emotional and shocked about her husband’s sudden death, only desired to see Elizabeth (Lizzy) because she was the only one who understood her. From here, the author takes us back into the past to the childhoods of Mary and Lizzy, beginning with Mary’s upbringing.

Mary experienced a troubled childhood. Her mother passed away when she was young and she was raised by a selfish and cruel stepmother. Mary always put up a fight with her stepmother’s orders and was persistent in her beliefs. Even though her life was unhappy, Mary continued to believe in herself and never gave up on her dream of living in the White House. There was one person in Mary’s life that meant the world to her. Her name was Mammy Sally, a black slave and the family’s cook. When Mary experienced hardships, Mammy Sally was always there for her, like a mother. They developed a trusting relationship that Mary always cherished. In my life, I am fortunate to have two grandmas that I consider my Mammy Sallys, who care for me like Mammy Sally cared for Mary.

Lizzy, born into slavery, was raised by her black mother on a southern plantation which was owned by her white father. She learned how to sew at age four. Lizzy wished for the day that she could sew for a grand lady. Later, she experienced the hardships that go along with being a female slave. This section of the story reminded me of when my class studied slavery I became furious while reading about the intense mistreatment of Lizzy, like whippings and other abuse. Through Lizzy’s hardships, she never gave up and she became a great seamstress.

Later, after setting up her own business, Lizzy became Mary’s seamstress in the White House. Mary continued to live a difficult life because she dealt with depression, the death of her two sons, and the struggles of being First Lady. She looked to Lizzy for support and Lizzy was always there for her. Mary considered Lizzy her Mammy Sally. This unlikely friendship makes me think of the pen-pal friendship I have with a girl from Zambia, Africa. The friendship is special to me even though we live different lives and communicate with each other from one side of the world to the other.

I would highly recommend this book to those who enjoy reading historical fiction. Ann Rinaldi presented the information so well that I have a strong understanding of the characters’ lives. She really allowed me to feel the amazing relationship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley.

An Unlikely Friendship Ashley Johnson

Ashley Johnson,10
West Linn, Oregon

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