Tonya Bolden–Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl

The What: Tonya Bolden highlights the life of Maritcha Lyons, a free black woman in New York in the time of slavery. Her world comes to life through photographs, letters, and Bolden’s commentary.

The Good: Well-written, well-researched, lovingly presented: we the rabble can only hope that if a biographer tackles our lives, he or she will do so with the same skill that Tonya Bolden has brought to her biography of Maritcha Lyons. Photographs and quotations abound, allowing Maritcha’s world to come through to us on its own terms. Bolden does a masterful job of presenting the story, but also of staying out of its way. Books for young adults about free black people in the 19th century are in woefully short supply, and I’m thrilled to have a book on the shelf that can help my patrons learn more about the wide variety of lives that people of color have lived. I can see why this book received a deluge of awards, including the Coretta Scott King Author Honor and the James Madison Book Award. (For a full list, see the author’s website at

The Meh: The only “meh” inherent to the book, as far as I could tell, was its somewhat deliberate pace. I think that teens who are anything but passionate about this time period might find it hard to engage with the text, but YA readers of any age and interest might enjoy browsing the photographs.

Hand It To: history buffs, nonfiction fans, Nancy Pearl’s character and setting readers