Review by Seana Zimmer, adult services library assistant at the Hillsborough branch
I enjoy reading the backstory of famous novels, and I found the recent book by Laurie Lico Albanese provided a great prologue to “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This novel is frequently required reading in high school. Adults can recall the “Scarlet A” worn by the woman in the story, even if they remember little else. This recently released novel explores the woman’s side of the story.
All the main characters have a secret to protect: opium addiction, seeing words as colors, transporting illegal goods, illicit love affairs. The book expands Hester’s world beyond just her interaction with Nate, encompassing the struggles of surviving in a new world, as an independent woman, with a dangerous secret.
Hester has an unusual gift, a talent with the needle and a unique understanding of color. Telling people that the letter A is red or a word has a certain color causes fear among others, with the threat of being labeled a witch. As a child, Hester’s mother tells her to hide her colors. As a young woman, Hester finds a use for her gift and she finds others who understand it.
The author shares the tension between classes, strangers, and men and women with sharpness. Her storyline propels the reader to learn what happens to Hester as the drama unfolds.
The book contains some interesting historical points, also. The genetic medical condition of experiencing one sense with another, synesthesia, was first recognized in the 1800s. Approximately 1% of the population has this condition, although it is more common for music to be heard as shapes. Another point is that researchers can find a key source or incident sparking all of Nathanial Hawthorne’s books except “The Scarlet Letter.” The creation of a possible rationale for this tale is the aim of author Laurie Lico Albanese. This is similar to the development of the storyline “Carnegie’s Maid” by Marie Benedict. I hope you will read this novel, and keep an eye out for “Hester” as a SCLSNJ Historical Fiction Book Discussion next fall.