Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe

In 1892, every major newspaper in America was obsessed with a teenage murderess, but it wasn't her crime that shocked the nation – it was her motivation, which was dismissed as insane far before the case ever came to trial.
Nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell loved Freda Ward, but if she couldn't marry her seventeen-year-old fiancĂ©, no one could. When Freda’s sister discovered their love letters, she exposed the couple’s plan to elope in Memphis and live in St. Louis, where Alice would pass as a man support them.
Intimate female friendships were commonplace at the turn-of-the-century, but forty years before the term "lesbian" would emerge, same-sex love was virtually unknown in America. Alice and Freda’s scheme was therefore dismissed as a schoolgirl fantasy taken too far. The fathers were to be kept out of this affair entirely, and yet, just to be sure, the two families’ matriarchs handed down a definitive sentence: Alice and Freda were never to speak again.
Freda adjusted to this fate with an ease that stunned Alice, leaving her heartbroken and isolated. Her desperation grew with each unanswered letter – and her father’s razor soon went missing.
On January 25th, Alice slashed her ex-fiancĂ©’s throat, but a crowd formed before she could take her own life. Her same-sex love was deemed insane by her own father that very night, and every expert in the state of Tennessee agreed with the retired businessman: this kind of perversion was dangerous and incurable. As the courtroom was expanded to accommodate national and local interest, Alice spent months in jail – including the night the KKK lynched three of her fellow prisoners, a case that captured the attention of Memphian Ida B. Wells.
Alice's lunacy inquisition was over in just 10 days. She was sentenced to an asylum, where she died under mysterious circumstances a few years later.
Alice + Freda Forever tells tragic, real-life love story with the aid of over 100 illustrated newspaper clippings, love letters, legal correspondence, and re-imagined courtroom scenes. Their names may not be familiar now, but Alice and Freda’s story became a national case study for same-sex love, perpetuated as strange and dangerous in a wide-array of literature, from medical texts to works of fiction. This sensational crime occurred well over a hundred years ago, but this world will prove sadly familiar to the modern reader.

I'm not sure exactly what it was that drew me to this book, but I'm glad I gave it a try.

In Alice + Freda Forever, readers learn about the love story of Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward, as well as the aftermath of Alice's shocking decision to eliminate Freda.

This book reads a bit like a crime documentary in book form. That is, we get flashbacks of important moments and details of Alice and Freda's romance, as well as what happened in the courtroom afterward. Interwoven through the narrative where Alice and Freda's letters, some articles and other things, so readers get to see the whole affair through almost omniscient eyes.

From what I can tell from the story, Alice and Freda's relationship was quite toxic. Alice was possessive and Freda was like Maureen from Rent, flirtatious and loved attention. The way the book was written, as well as the way it was presented, really allowed me to feel the excitement and other emotions that the participants in the story felt.

Aside from Alice and Freda's story, we also get a glimpse of life in Victorian-era America. Let me tell you, it made me very angry. During that time, racism and sexism were very much alive. There were moments when I felt like yelling at the men in the story that they were idiots. I'm so happy that I live in a world that is striving to make things better for everyone.

Thanks to NetGalley and Zest Books for the e-ARC.


  1. The book is well-researched.
  2. The story is well-written.
  3. You get to see what life is like in Victorian-era and how that played into the events in the book.


  1. The longer letters written using a handwritten font made me feel a little cross-eyed as I tried to read it.


  1. You like watching documentaries.
  2. You hate racism and sexism.
  3. You like reading about life way back when. 




Note: This post contains Amazon and Book Depository affiliate links.

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