Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2022) Featured Review of A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia
HarperCollins / Quill Tree Books
Publication Date: May 25, 2021
ISBN: 978-0062367297

Louisiana, 1860: Elderly white matriarch Madame Sylvie Guilbert presides over La Petite Cottage, her family’s plantation. She is determined to sit for a portrait in spite of the financial troubles that are threatening to ruin the Guilbert family. After all, that’s what the heads of all the great families do, and Sylvie will do almost anything to project that kind of power and influence. Also caught up in Sylvie’s scheming are her son, grandson, and the enslaved people forced to work at La Petite Cottage. 

Williams-Garcia’s latest novel is an incisive portrait of antebellum plantation life. The juxtaposition of the rosy ideal of white gentility with the casual brutality of slavery is particularly effective – the rot underneath the veneer of wealth and privilege is palpable. Williams-Garcia’s writing is exceptional with memorable characters, a vivid setting, tight plotting and brisk pacing. A Sitting in St. James explores a number of interrelated themes like race, class, gender, and sexuality with nuance and the sense of clarity that can only come from meticulous research and consideration. Readers should be aware that some content, in particular racist language and racially-motivated violence and rape, may be triggering. 

The epic scope of this saga, coupled with the unflinching portrayal of slavery and the sophisticated writing style make this book read more like an adult book than most YA, but the subject matter is more timely than ever. Pair this one with other historical novels that explore race in America like The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and the Logans series by Mildred D.Taylor as well as classics like The Color Purple by Alice Walker or Beloved by Toni Morrison. 

Courtney Waters, she/her/hers

Other Nominated Titles

  • Switch by A.S. King (May 11, 2021)
  • An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi (June 1, 2021)

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination. 

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten. The previous years’ lists are available on The Hub.