In 1822, after a short courtship, Mary Ann agrees to follow Junius to America. They settle in a cabin outside Baltimore. Junius, as a celebrated Shakespearean actor, is gone 9 months of every year, leaving the growing family in the hands of Mary Ann.
The story begins with Rosalie, the oldest daughter, who relates the family events, while setting the stage for the historical background. Her father leases some slaves, but besides paying the lease, he also pays wages as he believes that every human being should be paid for the labor.
In May 1838, the ninth child is born, John Wilkes. Instead of leaving a legacy for who he was – a noted actor from a prominent theatrical family, he stains his name with his action.
Two years later, after the tenth child is born, the family trades the farm life for the city life in Baltimore. And that’s when the story starts including snippets from the life of Abraham Lincoln. At the time, he is a state congressman in Illinois. The vignettes of Lincoln are very short and yet very powerful. With a few sentences, readers get a picture of a man who rose from very humble beginnings to the presidency.
Edwin, who also becomes one of the leading actors of his time, is good at mimicry and acting, which at first is done behind his father’s back at hotel’s cellar. At fourteen, he is sent on the road to accompany his father to keep him out of trouble and pretty much to save the whole family financially.
The novel skillfully reflects the complex characters of this intricate family. The father is a talented actor, drawing large crowds, but he is irresponsible with his actions and with managing money, leaving the mother to sell produce from a stall in order to provide for family. The contrast between two brothers John and Edwin is evident. John is popular among boys and runs with a gang, who call themselves the Baltimore Bully Boys. Edwin is of more delicate nature, who is the one who gets beat up. John’s rebellious nature trends throughout his life and is well-reflected in the story.
The poignant writing touches upon human emotions and with layers reveals feelings of children towards the father. Despite the father’s faults, the children appreciate his storytelling and artistry, which brings color and vibrancy to their life. He is missed greatly, when sickness claims him.
Booth is a riveting historical novel vibrantly portraying its members on stage and behind the curtains with many triumphs and scandals, set against the boiling point of secession and civil war.