Author: Melanie Benjamin
Published: July 26, 2011
Genre: historical fiction
Hardcover: 424 pages
Source: borrowed from the library
My Rating: 4 stars
Synopsis (from GoodReads): She was only two-foot eight-inches tall, but her legend reaches out to us more than a century later. As a child, Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Bump was encouraged to live a life hidden away from the public. Instead, she reached out to the immortal impresario P. T. Barnum, married the tiny superstar General Tom Thumb in the wedding of the century, and transformed into the world’s most unexpected celebrity.
Here, in Vinnie’s singular and spirited voice, is her amazing adventure—from a showboat “freak” revue where she endured jeering mobs to her fateful meeting with the two men who would change her life: P. T. Barnum and Charles Stratton, AKA Tom Thumb. Their wedding would captivate the nation, preempt coverage of the Civil War, and usher them into the White House and the company of presidents and queens. But Vinnie’s fame would also endanger the person she prized most: her similarly-sized sister, Minnie, a gentle soul unable to escape the glare of Vinnie’s spotlight.
A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman’s public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams—and whose story will surely win over yours.
My Thoughts: This is just a delightful book. As I was reading this novel, that's all I kept on thinking to myself. Melanie Benjamin weaves a tale of Vinnie Bump, a woman from Massachusetts who realizes that she is different from everyone else that she has ever met, and it's these differences that allow her to travel the globe, meet queens and presidents and see the world all from the height of 2 feet, 8 inches. It would be easy for Benjamin to focus on how hard Vinnie's life is, how difficult it is for her to leave in a world that is so much bigger than she is; however, Benjamin focuses on Vinnie's spirit of can-do and how where there is a will (no matter how small), there's a way.
For me, the best part of this story was the characters. From Vinnie to her equally-sized sister Minnie, her husband, the famous General Tom Thumb, Sylvia the giantess, and Mr. P.T. Barnum, the man who launched Vinnie to stardom so that she became a household name. Each character has growth and is three dimensional. Vinnie is headstrong and determined to not let her size define her as some sideshow act. Her husband struggles with his size and his import. Mr. Barnum isn't a central character but he is so intriguing. How he built his empire and legacy is very interesting. He arranged Vinnie and Tom's marriage and made it into such a huge event that for weeks, news of their wedding overshadowed that of the Civil War! There's no doubt in my mind that Barnum is one of the best promoters that has ever lived. Vinnie, the main character of this novel, experiences growth that is hard to find in many pieces of historical fiction. Her growth from a young woman working on a riverboat to writing Mr. Barnum to let her join his museum to leaving through a hotel fire in her later years. Through each experience, I saw Vinnie growing as a character. And the growth wasn't based on her aging or her circumstances, but on things that she learned over the course of time.
If you enjoyed Water for Elephants, then I would definitely check out this book. It's showing you all the aspects of circus life while told from a strong narrator with a diverse cast of characters who all grow in some way. This is one of the better books that I have read this year and I will definitely be reading more of Melanie Benjamin's books.