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All We Were Promised by Ashton Lattimore
Historical fiction

All We Were Promised

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Ashton Lattimore, on your first book!

by Ashton Lattimore

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Quick take

Pre-Civil War Philadelphia brings together three Black women fighting for abolition in this emotionally riveting drama.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SocialIssues

    Social issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FemaleFriendship

    Female friendships

Synopsis

A housemaid with a dangerous family secret conspires with a wealthy young abolitionist to help an enslaved girl escape in volatile pre-Civil War Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, 1837. After Charlotte escaped from the crumbling White Oaks plantation down South, she’d expected freedom to feel different from her former life as an enslaved housemaid. After all, Philadelphia is supposed to be the birthplace of American liberty. Instead, she’s locked away playing servant to her white-passing father, as they both attempt to hide their identities from slave catchers who would destroy their new lives.

Longing to break away, Charlotte befriends Nell, a budding abolitionist from one of Philadelphia’s wealthiest Black families. Just as Charlotte starts to envision a future, a familiar face from her past reappears: Evie, her friend from White Oaks, has been brought to the city by the plantation mistress, and she’s desperate to escape. But as Charlotte and Nell conspire to rescue her, in a city engulfed by race riots and attacks on abolitionists, they soon discover that fighting for Evie’s freedom may cost them their own.

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All We Were Promised

Chapter 1

CHARLOTTE

Philadelphia, 1837

The city of Philadelphia wasn’t what it claimed to be. But after four years of living here with her father, Charlotte knew there was a lot of that going around. It was unseasonably warm that November morning in Washington Square Park, enough to leave Charlotte and her friend Nell sweating under their dresses even as amber and gold leaves crunched beneath their feet. In Philadelphia, a stray hot day was as good as summer, when folks would gather at parks and carousels and crowd onto the cobblestone streets in messy, loud-talking clumps that circled and melted into one another. But warm weather also meant rioting season: when all the city’s resentments between Black and white, freedman and immigrant, working folks and the struggling poor boiled over. Though the near-holy parchment at Independence Hall claimed all men were equal, the words told only half the story—in the heat, the city’s people rarely shied from acting out the rest. And in the cooler months after all the ruckus, the city would hush and turn itself inward, with everyone huddled into stately brick town houses and tumbledown back-alley tenements alike, as if embarrassed by all the thrashing and carrying on.

Charlotte had seen the same cycle play out for four years going, and that morning she knew that all the conditions were ripe for a mob scene. Still, as she and Nell sat together fanning themselves a few rows back from the open-air wooden stage waiting for Mr. Robert Purvis’s speech to start, she was lulled into a fool’s sense of safety.

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Why I love it

It’s always fascinating to watch characters from radically different stations in life be foisted into shared conflict. Will they extend solidarity to one another or put blinders on to everything but their self-interest? In her debut novel, Ashton Lattimore puts a fresh spin on the upstairs-downstairs drama, introducing readers to three very different but equally compelling Black women in antebellum Philadelphia.

The year is 1837. Officially, Pennsylvania is a free state. But there are loopholes and it remains unsafe in many quarters for its Black residents. Philadelphia is brimming with abolitionist activity. Nell and Charlotte meet at a women’s abolitionist society. Nell is from a monied Black family with deep roots in the city, Charlotte is a recent transplant living with her father who passes for white. Their abolitionist society is a cross-racial group that is split over how to best effectuate the changes they wish to see. More moderate (often whiter) voices call for keeping the faith and sticking to traditional advocacy. But after a chance encounter with Evie, a woman from Charlotte’s past still in bondage, Nell and Charlotte become interested in more direct challenges to slavery. But their efforts to free Evie may put their own liberty on the line…

Watching how these three women navigate the things pulling them apart and binding them together is riveting. This is a story about the true meaning of freedom and sacrifice and the undersung history of struggle by everyday Black people to make this country embody its highest ideals.

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