52 in 52: The Forgotten Seamstress, by Liz Trenow

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by Sourcebooks in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
Two stories, happening several decades apart, are told simultaneously in The Forgotten Seamstress. Maria Romano, locked up in a mental hospital from an early age, has been telling the same story for years, but everyone who hears it assumes that the story is simply the wild imaginings of a madwoman. Maria claims to have been a royal seamstress who, after carrying, delivering, and losing the illegitimate child of a prince, has been kept hidden away so as not to destroy the royal family. Meanwhile, Caroline Meadows has been dealing with the breakup of her long-term relationship, the end of an unfulfilling but somewhat lucrative career, and the slow deterioration of her mother’s health. After her mother suffers an episode and nearly burns down her house, Caroline is cleaning and sorting through old junk when she comes across a case containing an old quilt. The discovery leads Caroline on a quest to figure out the meanings sewn into the quilt and how it came into her hands. As you’ll learn, the history behind the quilt ties the women together in several surprising ways!

My thoughts:
I wrote an email to Liz Trenow’s publicist after finishing The forgotten Seamstress, and I think I can sum up my thoughts about the story fairly nicely and cleanly by quoting that email:

“I carried my NOOK, with The Forgotten Seamstress loaded on it, on vacation with me (yay for long car rides!). I had a bit of trouble focusing on my trip because I couldn’t stop reading! Liz Trenow’s storytelling is impeccable and the story itself was both heartbreaking and wholly fulfilling. It was truly inspirational, and I can’t wait to share my review with my readers.”

I think that adequately describes my feelings about the book, but part of my job is to give you a bit more detail, isn’t it?

I fell in love with Maria, the titular character, the moment I met her, knowing from page one that there was no way her story was completely imagined, as the hospital staff believed it to be (and also knowing that I’d be really angry if I was proven wrong and the whole tale was a lie). The brief-yet-everlasting story (read the book and you’ll see what I mean) between Maria and Nurse Margaret was heartbreaking and, upon revealing a very important secret later on, shocking. Caroline, Maria’s present-day counterpoint, reminded me of a good friend of mine, and I found myself wanting to hug her and tell her that everything would be all right in the end. After reading just a few chapters, I realized why I was enjoying this book so much; it reminded me of a TV show I’d been really interested in a while back, called Who Do You Think You Are? The show used to air on NBC, and I watched it religiously — genealogy, celebrity or otherwise, has always been a fascinating topic for me, and The Forgotten Seamstress falls into the same vein as the show (which, by the way, moved to TLC but may no longer be airing). Caroline’s quilt turns out to be as interesting a character as Caroline and Maria themselves, and Liz Trenow makes it very easy to imagine what the quilt may have actually looked like. Her use of description is perfect there, as it is in many other aspects of the story. The quilt itself, though, is really what ties the entire story together; Caroline may never have been able to figure out the connection between Maria and herself if not for the quilt. I found myself wishing I had one like it (or even just having the ability to sew, which could prove troublesome as my already rough-and-tumble toddler continues to age and grow crazier).

So would I recommend this book?
YES. All capitals — the fact that caps look “shouty” drives home the point. This book is worth your time, I promise!! Especially if you’re interested in genealogy (Ancestry.com, anyone??), sewing, historical fiction, or plain-old masterful storytelling, you HAVE. TO. READ. THIS. BOOK!!

Follow Liz Trenow on Twitter here.
Visit Liz Trenow’s website here.
Find the template to make Maria’s quilt here.