The story has 2 narratives: Josephine, the titular house girl on a plantation back 1800s Virginia, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer working a reparations case in the present day. Though I should probably put those in the other order because it feels like Lina's chapters feel like the main story, fleshed out by Josephine's.
Lina's law firm gets a case for a $6 trillion reparations lawsuit to sue the government and any business who could have benefitted from slavery in a reparations case. Another guy on the team has to do...lawyery things* and Lina is charged with finding a "face for the case" by finding a direct descendant of a slave to put on the stand.
Lina becomes obsessed with finding a descendant of the house girl Josephine, who is said to be the actual artists behind a number of famous paintings currently attributed to Lu Anne Bell, Josephine's mistress. Through a crazy random happenstance, Lina meets someone at her father's gallery opening that owns a couple as-yet-unknown Lu Anne Bell/Josephine pictures and could just be the descendant she's looking for. Also he's cute and in a band.
The book pretty much exactly how you assume it will. I didn't highlight many passages and by the end I started making snarky comments at the text, which typically means I'm bored with this now. Like I said in my minireview, the book wasn't bad. It just wasn't particularly good either. If you want to read a review that nails my feelings on this book (you know, other than mine, right here), check out the Washington Post piece. It says everything I wish I had thought to say.
Title quote page 77, location 1120
Conklin, Tara. The House Girl. Harper Collins, 2013. Kindle.