Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson // ARC Review

December 26, 2020

In the tradition of Wrench and Twelve Years a Slave, this harrowing story follows an enslaved woman forced to barter love and freedom while living in the most infamous slave jail in Virginia.

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson

Release - January 12, 2021
Genre - Historical Fiction
Single POV - 1st person heroine
Format/Source - eARC provided by the publisher
Length - 287 pages

Born on a plantation in Charles City Virginia, Pheby Delores Brown, has lived a privileged life. Shielded by her mother’s position as the plantation's medicine woman, and cherished by the Master's sister, she is set apart from the others on the plantation, belonging to neither world.

Freedom on her 18th birthday has been promised to her, but instead of the idyllic life she imagined with her true love, Essex Henry, Pheby is forced to leave the only home she has ever known and unexpectedly finds herself thrust into the bowels of slavery at the infamous “Devil’s Half-Acre,” a jail where the enslaved are broken, tortured, and sold every day in Richmond, Virginia. There Pheby is exposed not just to her Jailor’s cruelty but also to his contradictions. To survive Pheby will have to outwit him but soon faces the ultimate sacrifice.

I'm finding it impossible to stop thinking about this book! Pheby's story has had a firm grip on my heart from its opening lines and it seems to have no intention of letting me go.

At seventeen, she was unprepared for what life had in store for her. Born a slave, she was raised to never believe herself to be one and by comparison, she was shown to be several steps above. When tragedy strikes, everything she knew, every bit of safety she ever felt, was suddenly ripped away and Pheby learned quick what it was to have absolutely no rights and no freedoms. To have every move dictated, to have every thought deemed unworthy, to have no control over her own body. She learned though. She found ways to survive, to adapt, to thrive. And when given the chance, despite the many times she almost lost hope, she gave her all and proved what she was willing to sacrifice for love.

One of the things I loved most about this story was how raw it felt. It gutted me, flayed me wide open, scattered my feels all over the place. As a black woman, I can never truly imagine the horrors that my people faced during slavery. So much of what they experienced is lost. And although we live in times that are far better than what existed then, we're not on equal footing. Racism still exists and it oozed through the pages of this book. The hatred, the ignorance, the hypocrisy... all of it was tempered by the faith and pride of Pheby and the people she cared about. While these characters were constantly on edge, they found love and hope and freedom amongst themselves. It was beautiful and had an almost poetic quality to it.

I wavered on giving this book all of the stars simply because I wasn't satisfied with the ending. But then I realized that I probably wouldn't have been satisfied if the author had gifted us with some grandiose version of a romantic happily ever after either. I'd probably be pissed, to be honest. There was nothing pretty to be found during those times, but the author found a way to highlight the profound beauty that couldn't be defeated. And for that... all the stars!!


Sadeqa Johnson, a former public relations manager, spent several years working with well-known authors such as JK Rowling, Bebe Moore Campbell, Amy Tan and Bishop TD Jakes before becoming an author herself. Her debut novel, Love in a Carry-on Bag, is the recipient of the 2013 Phillis Wheatley award for best fiction, OOSA best book award, and USA best book award for African-American fiction. Second House From the Corner, was hailed by Essence magazine and a Go on Girl! Bookclub selection for 2017. And Then There Was Me, won the National Book Club Conference fiction book of the year award, and was a finalist for the Phillis Wheatley award. She has also received the Black Pearl Magazine Author of the Year award for 2017.

Johnson is a Kimbilo Fellow, former board member of the James River Writers, and proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers. She also teaches fiction writing for the MFA program at Drexel University. Originally from Philadelphia, she currently lives near Richmond, Virginia with her amazingly supportive husband of 18 years, and their three beautiful children.

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