Hrm. I'm not really sure what to make of this book. It's a pretty good read with a reasonably compelling narrator, but plot doesn't quite gel. The ending left me mystified, and not in that cool dazed way where you contemplate what might happen next. Instead we're left with what essentially feels like a "to be continued," which I would have thought the author would be too classy for.
Anyway, Genna is a smart and solitary African- and Panamanian-American teenager growing up in early 21st century Brooklyn who gets transported back in time to more or less the same location, just before Christmas in 1862. She ends up working for a white doctor as nursemaid to his child and as a sort of nurse-in-training in his practice. (She wants to become a doctor, a psychiatrist specifically, a notion Dr. Brant thinks is absurd. Negroes' heads are small than white peoples', so they aren't capable of being as smart. Same with women vs. men.) She has two potential love interests, one from the present, and one from the future/past, who manages to find her in the 19th century.
The good stuff in the novel is the imagining of black Brooklyn back in the day, when it was populated by freed and escaped slaves and their near descendants. (See also Weeksville.) You burn along with Genna when the Mrs. abuses her and her fellow house servant Nannie (not her name) and the Dr. even (especially?) in his liberal goodness underestimates them. Genna develops a friendship with an Irish girl, so the book isn't without a few sympathetic white characters, for white readers who get defensive about such things. And in fact even though Mrs. Brant is portrayed as a fairly nasty piece of work, she is three dimensional and has her moments to show goodness, or at least bravery.
I'm also interested in Judah, Genna's Rastafarian primary love interest. He works as a circulation clerk at Brooklyn Public Library, so he's got that in his favor. He does get a little moody though in Civil War era Brooklyn. Not that he doesn't have reason to be a crank and want to take Genna to Liberia. It's better than her other suitor, a light-skinned son-of-a-boss whose dream is Kansas. I recommend this for those who like historical fiction and who care more about description than plot.
Do check out Zetta Elliott's blog, called Fledgling, a nod to Octavia Butler, whose book Kindred, A Wish is compared to in many reviews. Ms. Elliott digs into race, writing and publishing, and has 45 posts tagged "libraries." Plus the banner for her blog is lovely. I wish I could read the credit on the side.