When young seamstress May Bedloe is left alone and penniless on the shore of the Ohio, she finds work on the famous floating theatre that plies its trade along the river. Her creativity and needlework skills quickly become invaluable and she settles in to life among the colourful troupe of actors. She finds friends, and possibly the promise of more… But cruising the border between the Confederate South and the ‘free’ North is fraught with danger. For the sake of a debt that must be repaid, May is compelled to transport secret passengers, under cover of darkness, across the river and on, along the underground railroad. But as May’s secrets become harder to keep, she learns she must endanger those now dear to her. And to save the lives of others, she must risk her own …
“And remember to smile”. I must have looked uncertain, for he said: “Just spread your lips and show your teeth”.
This was a fantastic book. I’ve read so many great stories lately that I’m always afraid for the next one. However, The Floating Theatre was just as amazing as its beautiful cover promised. If you aren’t a fan of historical fiction, I guess this is not the right book for you, but if you want to give the genre a chance, I’d highly recommend this one (and Becoming Bonnie! -not that they’re remotely similar-).
As I do every time I read a book based on real facts, the first thing I did when I picked up The Floating Theatre was to search what exactly was that, as I wanted to know what they looked like and what was the history behind them. This book is a beautiful (and sometimes tragic) story about a peculiar theatre company and the underground railroad. However, I feel the need to make things clear: the underground railroad storyline is important but it doesn’t start until 50% into or so, so I wouldn’t say this is a tough read at all. It’s actually quite fun.
Maybe because it didn’t focus only around that, I believe The Floating Theatre is a lovely book. I found myself smiling most of the time and wanting May and Hugo to kiss already, as their relationship was so well-written and sweet, just the kind of “love story” I love to read about. It’s basically a friendship, but you know there’s something more. And it wasn’t obvious or contrived, it felt completely natural.
And speaking of May, May Bedloe might be one of my favorite characters ever. She was so funny! And don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t funny on purpose, she was actually quite serious, yet she made me laugh several times. You see, May can’t lie or smile and she’s always blunt and straight-forward. She likes precision and details and is always honest when people ask her opinion about something. You can imagine that causes plenty of hilarious situations.
My favorite part of The Floating Theatre was the friendship between the company members. They accepted each other for who they were and there were some secondary characters that I really grew attached to, like Leo, for example. There was a sweet surprise moment that got me teary-eyed and I know that if a book has managed to make me emotional it’s because it’s a great story.
This is a book I won’t easily forget.
ARC, Bonnier Zaffre, 2017