The Undertaker's Assistant

The Undertaker's Assistant

by Amanda Skenandore


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Set during Reconstruction-era New Orleans, and with an extraordinary and unforgettable heroine at its heart, The Undertaker’s Assistant is a powerful story of human resilience—and of the unlikely bonds that hold fast even in our darkest moments.
“The dead can’t hurt you. Only the living can.” Effie Jones, a former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, knows the truth of her words. Taken in by an army surgeon and his wife during the War, she learned to read and write, to tolerate the sight of blood and broken bodies—and to forget what is too painful to bear. Now a young freedwoman, she has returned south to New Orleans and earns her living as an embalmer, her steady hand and skillful incisions compensating for her white employer’s shortcomings.
Tall and serious, Effie keeps her distance from the other girls in her boarding house, holding tight to the satisfaction she finds in her work. But despite her reticence, two encounters—with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline—introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence and growing racial turmoil, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find her place . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496713681
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 07/30/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 88,495
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Amanda Skenandore is a historical fiction writer and registered nurse. Her first novel, Between Earth and Sky, won the American Library Association’s Reading List Award for Best Historical Fiction. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Readers can visit her website at

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The Undertaker's Assistant 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Debable 8 days ago
4.5 stars, rounded up The Undertaker’s Assistant both educated and entertained me. My knowledge of the time period immediately after the Civil War is limited, but Amanda’s well researched novel brought this dire period to life with believable characters with depth and the fascinating 1870s New Orleans setting. The Undertaker’s Assistant held me rapt. I absolutely needed to know more about Effie. Effie is one of the best characters I’ve come to know in my recent extensive reading; one-of -a kind, strong yet naive, smart, independent, gutsy. Effie’s history unfolds forwards and backwards, as she begins to remember how she came to the Union lines as a young girl during the Civil War. While the nature of embalming could be described as gruesome, Amanda makes it interesting with medical details, never being overly graphic. War and violence are nasty stuff. The descriptions are vivid, but not overdone. I hope this will reach a wide audience because of the difficult racial truths it contains. It’s definitely not just a ‘women’s book.’ I could easily see The Undertaker’s Assistant as a Netflix movie or limited series too. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
dlvandruff 14 days ago
Effie is a Negro women. She is also an apt embalmer of the dead. She is smart, well read, literate. Some of the other women call her uppity, but she just says it as she sees it. Effie has just returned from the north. She is home now in New Orleans. She knows she is from here. She just can't find any family or friends from that time. She was seven when she was rescued by the army in grey. She grew up in a home where a daughter had died. She has learned everything she knows from the people who have taken her in as their ward. In New Orleans she finds a job with an undertaker. She does well for a woman of that time. She lives in a boarding house with other women. The one thing that seems to escape her is love. When she sees Samson Greene at a Republican meeting she is in live immediately. When he asks her to marry him, she does not understand why she can't immediately say yes. An intriguing story of strength, live, betrayal and family. Excellent characters. A definite must read.
Anonymous 17 days ago
The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore takes place in New Orleans during the Reconstruction after the Civil War. The story follows Effie Jones, who as a young girl escapes to the North and is brought up by an embalmer and his wife. The story begins as Effie returns to New Orleans as a grown woman. She finds works, doing what she knows and is comfortable with, assisting in embalming. The story then follows Effie as she learns about friendship, love and her past. I really loved the character of Effie. She is not comfortable with societal rules and often speaks and does what she wants. I enjoyed watching her grow from someone who pushes down all emotions and thinks in logical terms to someone who lets her emotions come through and even starts to act on them. She meets Adeline and learns about friendship and all the complications and sometimes pain that come with relationships. She falls in love and learns really what love is. I also found the history of New Orleans after the Civil War fascinating. The Reconstruction is an interesting time period in our country and not one I have read much about. The setting of New Orleans made that period even more fascinating with the conflicts between not only the white man and the newly freed black man but also the Creoles. Along with the great storyline and the fascinating history I loved the writing. The author, Skenandore, has a writing style that draws me in. I can see and feel everything that Effie does. I feel the upsets, the happiness, the struggles that she feels. I did find that I needed to slow down my reading a bit to really enjoy what was happening and become immersed in the beautifully detailed writing. My copy of The Undertaker’s Assistant was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I also won a copy from the author in a giveaway.
MKF 19 days ago
One of the more unusual heroines in recent historical fiction, Effie is a young woman who escaped slavery, lived through the Civil War, learned a niche trade in the undertaking business, and moves to New Orleans in a search for her own heritage. That last is a broad characterization but it's also a fair one. New Orleans during Reconstruction is a stew of hatred, corruption, and so many other things- not what Effie had hoped to find. She is luckier than many, however, because she is able to work at a respectable job even if for a pig of a boss. Chance encounters lead her to her first friendship with Adeline and romance with Samson but regular readers of this genre know that things won't go smoothly. This take a bit to get into- it's not an easy read initially- but keep reading because Skenador does a nice job with a sense of time and place. Effie isn't the most likable character perhaps but I found her sympathetic - her life has not been and is not easy. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. For fans of historical fiction.
Surrah19 4 days ago
This book had been on my radar since early in the year and I am so excited and thankful to Netgalley and Kensington Books for providing me with the opportunity to read and review it! I absolutely love that the author writes about perspectives of historical fiction that are often brushed aside. While Effie is an incredible young woman, she is very much trying to find herself and her place in this world. I can’t imagine how tough it would be to return to the area in which she was enslaved as a child and even years later was not always a friendly place for her to be. I also loved that she’s an incredibly deep and unpredictable person. The depth of Effie that the author captured was something you don’t see often. I rated this book four stars because of the depth of the characters, the tension and the beautiful (and tragic) story line that was artfully crafted. Any time Amanda Skenandore writes a book, it’s on my list to read as soon as it comes out. I always know I’ll be completely immersed in the world, the well-being of the characters and really taking away a different perspective of life that I can learn from.
Gwendalyn_books_ 13 days ago
This book was received as an ARC from the publisher and Author, in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own A deeply intriguing and introspective moving novel Amanda Skenandore, new novel is Intensely emotional historical drama set during the Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Euphemia also known as Effie is a compelling and unforgettable heroine. A former slave and now an accomplished undertaker's assistant, she has returned to New Orleans to forge a new life and confront her traumatic deeply barrier past. Skenandore involves all the senses in her evocation of the past, from the bustling, multi-lingual French Quarter, where Creole socialites are elevated. to the riveting terrifying raids of mobs of angry white men that carry out violence against law-abiding Black citizens. An educated freedwoman Effie who’s occupation as an embalmer makes her stand out among the rest. Barely 21 years old Effie takes a position with a white employer. Her meticulous talents as an embalmer make up for her present employers short comings. The author does a wonderful narrative setting the plot line up in the beginning as we get to know each character and a bit of the back stories. This richly atmospheric historical fiction with interpersonal drama and well developed characters with a creative storyline will keep you glued to the pages. Under the Authors narrative voice you are catapult into the book setting of 1870s New Orleans. Authenticity researched this novel examines the complex relationship between love and loss, culture and social caste, and assimilation Skenandore's impressive second novel, The Undertaker’s Assistant, is a phenomenal book, that I will definitely recommend to my family and friends A deeply intriguing and introspective moving novel @netgalley #netgalley #theundertakersassistant #bookrecommendations #bookreview #bookreviews #bookreviewer #bookreviewers #bookreviewblog #book #bookshelf #books #bookstoread #author #authorsofinstagram #authorlife #authors #authorslife #read #reading #reader #readersofinstagram #book #books #writersofinstagram #writer #writerscommunity #writerslife #writersofig #writers #writersnetwork
Anonymous 18 days ago
The Undertaker’s Assistant follows the story of Effie Jones an embalmer trying to put her past behind her not even sure what that past entails. Effie finds work with an undertaker who is struggling to keep his business afloat as an ex-Union soldier in post-civil war New Orleans. Struggling under the constrictions of being both a female and a freedwoman Effie finds solace in like-minded friends within the Republican activist community and an unlikely ally from affluent Creole society. Establishing herself within her profession as racial tension increase Effie is drawn to the position of discovering herself among forgotten memories. Amanda Skenandore successfully creates a worthy heroine in this work. The narrative is amplified with lush descriptions of New Orleans and engages the reader in the emotions of civil war reconstruction. The author uses a great deal of French in the book, a cursory knowledge of the language is beneficial but not necessarily essential. The text did require me to look some words up. Additionally, I felt the book left some loose ends especially with certain secondary characters. Full disclosure- An ARC of this book was provided via NetGalley in return for this review.
Rhonda-Runner1 18 days ago
Euphemia "Effie" Jones was 7 years old and was a slave. She and another slave, Jonsey ran away and she was rescued by Captain John Kinyon of the Union Army. He took her home to Indiana where she was raised and educated by Captain Kinyon and his wife. She worked alongside the Captain learning how to embalm bodies. When she is 21, she returned to New Orleans to find her roots. She got a job as an embalmer with Colonel Whitmark who seemed to like the bottle better than his business. This book drew me in from the beginning and I really enjoyed it. Effie was my favorite character. She had issues to overcome and social skills to learn. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this book that is very sad at times and then funny at other times. Overall, this is a great book.
MusicInPrint 19 days ago
This is a story set in New Orleans after the Civil War. Effie Jones was a slave who escaped and lived a big part of her life in Indiana learning anatomy and the art of embalming. Looking for her roots she returns to New Orleans and experiences life on her own. Lots of action to experience in this work by Amanda Skenandore. "This book was provided by Kensington Books via NetGalley with no requirements for a review. Comments here are my honest opinion."
CathyGeha 19 days ago
The Undertaker’s Assistant by Amanda Skenandore Well written, plotted and researched this was a story I put down last night thinking I would not finish it, though I had enjoyed it immensely in the beginning. I think that it became a bit dark and made me feel unsettled. When I picked it up this morning I felt compelled to continue reading and am so glad that I did. I remember not requesting the ARC for this author’s first book because I thought it would be dark and now I am of the opinion that I will read it if and when I find a copy. This story begins in 1975 when Euphemia “Effie” Jones arrives in New Orleans from Indiana. She approaches an undertaker offering her services as an embalmer. He takes one look at her, a black woman, and puts her through her paces and as she does well at the job set by him for her to do he asks her to return in the morning. This book is not just about her work with those she embalms but also about her other experiences including the people she meets, the friends she makes, a man she believes she loves, her search for kindred and the political and social turmoil after the Civil War. Born a slave and with no memories before she was seven her life is a mystery. Taken in by an abolitionist surgeon in the midst of the war she has seen and experienced more than most. She is a bit different with her intelligence and forthrightness. She doesn’t make friends easily, finds difficulty showing emotions and tends to remain apart. She eventually does find a place she feels at home although the process of finding that place proves to be a truly emotional journey. This is not an easy book to read. Man’s injustice to his fellowman is often appalling. The losses suffered by many are part and parcel of this book. I think that Effie’s ability to distance and compartmentalize was a necessity though it did not always stand her in good stead. This is a book that made me think and care and wish the world was a different place and that true equality was part and parcel of life – back then and also today. So, I am glad I returned and finished the book and will say that I look forward to reading more by this author in the future. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC – This is my honest review. 5 Stars