Inspired by the real-life Patterson family, Krystal Marquis’s The Davenports (Dial Books, 2023) is a young adult, Bridgerton-esque romance set in Chicago in 1910. The Davenports are an extremely wealthy Black family, and that fortune has placed them in a very small section of the American population. William Davenport, a former slave, built his empire from the dirt up, and his children have lived lives of opulence. Olivia, the eldest daughter, is preparing to “settle down” and make the proper gentleman a proper wife. Helen, the younger daughter, is more comfortable in overalls in the garage than in a dress. She dreams of taking over the family’s carriage business and expanding to automobiles with her brother, John. And John finds himself torn between Amy-Rose, a childhood friend who had been the daughter of a maid and who now serves the family, and Ruby Tremaine, daughter of a family friend who is seeking to be Chicago’s first Black mayor. The novel alternates between Olivia, Helen, Ruby, and Amy-Rose’s POVs.
In an evolving political landscape, Olivia meets civil rights attorney Washington DeWight and realizes the life her parents are mapping out for her with the debonair Jacob Lawrence doesn’t set her soul ablaze like thoughts of DeWight do. Helen, struggling to fight for a voice in the garage, finds herself forced into a corset, her parents hellbent on making her a lady. Rather unexpectedly, she falls for her sister’s suitor. Ruby, a childhood friend of similar background, has grown up with Helen and Olivia. Both families believe it a forgone conclusion that John will propose to her, which would be excellent for Mr. Tremaine’s political aspirations. When the proposal doesn’t come as quickly as Ruby would like, she becomes determined to make John jealous by showing affection to another young man in their circle. And then there’s Amy-Rose, another childhood friend who grew up with the Davenport children, but the friendship faded as her relationship became more of the employer/employee sort; she’d never be good enough for John, but he still has her heart – even if she has dreams that don’t concern him.
There’s a lot happening in The Davenports, which is the first of the series. There are love triangles, miscommunication, enemy to lover-lite relationships, the boss’s son tropes, etc. Despite all the romance, this is truly a young adult novel and there is no spice other than a few stolen kisses and petting. But there is also racism, political demonstrations, classism, the Progressive Era, feminism, etc. It’s a fascinating time in American history, even more fascinating for wealthy Black families.
Bridgerton fans, this may be a series for you to check out. Young adult historical fiction and romance fans, this is a must. The Davenports is a delight.
Read this book.