Tag Archives: racism

Review: A Long Time Gone by Karen White

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Hardcover (June 3, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0451240460
  • Source: Publisher

Nine years ago, Vivian Walker left her home in Mississippi, swearing never to return, following the lead of so many Walker women before. When her life takes a turn for the worse and goes spiraling out of control, Vivian finds herself returning to the safety and comfort of her grandmother, Bootsie, admired for her ability to make everything right.  Upon her return, however, she discovered that Bootsie has passed away and her mother has started to fade away, Alzheimer‘s robbing her of her recent memories.

Vivian’s return immediately follows a violent storm that quite literally reveals family secrets buried beneath their home: the remains of a woman, long-dead, are found on the family’s property. It is soon made apparent to Vivian that, in order to rediscover herself and the woman she is meant to be, she must face a past of pain and loss that has devastated her family for generations.

I am a long-time fan of Karen White’s novels, and A Long Time Gone is no exception. Her trademark is to present deeply flawed characters seeking some sort of rediscovery, desperate for atonement and guidance for the battles life has dealt them. Her characters are dynamic and richly drawn, developing gradually and blossoming into completely new and rejuvenated individuals.

A Long Time Gone follows the Walker family, alternating between past and present, to showcase the lives of three generations of women and the battles they are forced to overcome.  Themes of maternal love and family run rich in this novel, surrounded by a setting rich with Southern charm. Additionally, she confronts issues like prohibition and racism in the context of Mississippi’s dark past.

While the page count may seem daunting, any fears of a long and overbearing novel vanish within the first few pages. Readers will be instantly captivated by the beautifully detailed southern setting and a compelling family whose history is rich with mystery and loss.

This is a book meant to be savored on the beach, or curled up in your favorite chair on the patio (as I did). I read it in one sitting, so captivated by the world White created in the Walker family.  This is a novel with characters and a message that are lasting. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (February 12, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1250014522
  • Source: Publisher
Isabelle McAllister is a feisty eighty-nine year old woman. Over the years, she’s formed quite a friendship with her hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis, a single-black woman in her thirties. She’s followed Dorrie around as she’s moved from one salon to another, finally opening up her own. Yet what Isabelle asks of her has nothing to do with her hair…but her past. Isabelle asks Dorrie to put her life on hold and driver her from her home in Arlington, TX to a funeral in Cincinnati the very next day.

Dorrie is more than happy to fulfill Isabelle’s request. The two woman, separated by age and race, have known each other for years. Dorrie realizes it must mean a lot to Isabelle to attend this funeral and she’s honored to be asked. After making arrangements for her children and tying lose ends at home, the two women embark on the journey.

Although Isabelle has been Dorrie’s client for years and have shared in casual conversation, neither woman really knows a great deal about the other. As the miles pass, Isabelle opens up to Dorrie about her guarded past.  As a teen growing up in 1930s Kentucky, she fell in love with Robert Prewitt, the son of her family’s black housekeeper, in a town in which blacks weren’t allowed after dark. Isabelle reveals to Dorrie a young life riddled with pain and loss, further proving the importance of this journey. In turn, Dorrie learns a great deal about herself on this journey, that love is possible if you just open your heart to it.

Due to my own marriage, when I began the journey with this book, I knew it would hit home with me. While we never had to face many of the challenges Isabelle and Robert faced, there were definitely some obstacles we had to overcome. His life was never in danger but we had to deal with looks and glares when we went out in the public. Seventy years certainly seems like a long time, but not when you are forced to endure racism that has endured for centuries. Thankfully, however, our boys were born years later, in a time in which the color of one’s skin didn’t determine their fate or value in life.  Now that they are older, we remind them how lucky we are to be a family, that not too long ago the love we share would be forbidden…illegal.

I love that Kibler uses her own grandmother’s story as an inspiration for this novel. She truly captures the very essence of an inter-racial relationship…then and now. Additionally, the transformation that both Isabelle and Dorrie take on their journey is incredibly endearing and heartwarming. Two young women with vastly different lives brought together seemingly by fate for I do not believe Isabelle could have taken this journey with anyone but Dorrie. The relationship they share, while unlikely, is wholly believable and sincere, the gifts they give one another are invaluable.

Calling Me Home is an incredibly memorable and heartwarming novel, rich with subject matters meant to be discussed. It’s a novel that I dare you NOT to fall in love with, for I grew such a strong attachment to this book that I read it not once, but twice. Isabelle and Robert’s relationship really hit home with me, characters that were forced to deal a fate no one should ever have to face in the name of love. I cannot wait to discuss this book with my own book club once it comes out in paperback. Until then, I fondly anticipate my reunion with Isabelle and Dorrie…and Robert. Highly, highly recommended.

Calling Me Home is the February book club selection for the She Reads book club. Check out what other members of the blog network thought of this book and join in on the discussion!

Review: Saving Ruth by Zoe Fishman

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (May 1, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 006205984X
  • Source: Publisher

Ruth Wasserman is a young, curly haired Jewish girl living in a small town in Alabama.  All her life, she wanted to be everything she wasn’t: thin, blonde, and popular. Instead, she’s a prisoner to her food obsession and her low self-esteem. Home for the summer after her freshman year of college, Ruth has lost a dramatic amount of weight-35 pounds. She tells her friends and family that she dieted, but in actuality she just didn’t eat. Despite this rapid weight loss, Ruth’s body image is distorted, she still sees layers of fat covering her body.

Her older brother, David, has also come home for the summer. He’s the family’s golden child, always doing what is right and expected of him. He brings home good grades, has played soccer his entire life, even earning scholarships based on his skill. Yet for some reason this year at school was different. He and Ruth didn’t talk like they used to. Only a few years apart, David and Ruth had a great sibling relationship but something has changed. David seems different, separating himself from his friends and family.

When a near-drowning takes place at the small community pool where David and Ruth work as lifeguards, both David and Ruth are forced to confront the skeletons in their closets, issues long ignored within their family and their small town.

Saving Ruth is truly compelling novel that addresses many sensitive subjects including eating disorders, racial tensions, depression and more. Fishman excels at accurately portraying issues that are relevant to every individual at this age, not sugar coating the issues but instead showing them at face value. A truly well-imagined and developed character-driven novel, Saving Ruth introduces readers to a wealth of dynamic characters. Zoe has always been an outcast, never really living up to her parents’ dreams and aspirations. Feeling that she doesn’t have much to live up to, never able to reach the status her older brother has, instead she just gets by.  Seeing her “golden child” brother deteriorate, it forces her to take a step back and evaluate what she’s doing to her body and with her life. David, too, witnesses how Ruth has changed and is so shocked that he opts to shed the facade he’s been carrying around all year. The two siblings go through a tremendous period of growth and rediscovery, together.

Saving Ruth is a truly rewarding novel, one that I see being discussed at book clubs due to the sheer volume of discussion-worthy topics. It is a novel I devoured in one sitting, a book that took me back to my youth and all the issues of that age. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: instances of drugs, sex, language

Review: The Possibility of You by Pamela Redmond

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; Original edition (February 21, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1451616422
  • Source: Publisher

Three women from three different worlds. Each are forced to make a personal decision that influence subsequent generations.

Bridget (1916)-A nanny for a young boy. She’s more of a mother to him that the woman who birthed him. When he is torn from their arms, she is forced to relive his passing, day after day. She loses part of herself the day he dies and becomes forever connected to the woman she worked for.

Billie (1976)-After her father passes away, she discovers a part of her family, and a deep dark secret,  she’d never realized existed.

Cait (present day)-Adopted, she never really wanted/needed more from her parents. Yet, she always finds herself running…from life, but mostly from herself. She decides to track down the mother she gave away, in hopes that this discovery will help her make the decision about keeping her own unborn child.

Each of these three women have one thing in common: they have become unexpectedly pregnant. As they search for a decision about the fate of their unborn child’s life, they also search for their own personal identity, a sense of belonging. Their decisions tear apart families and friendships, but in doing so forge new, more stable relationships.

Set in New York, important movements in the history of women’s rights in the background, The Possibility of You, is at the core more than simply a novel about the lives of three women, forever changed by potential motherhood. It also deals with a whole host of other topics and issues, including racism, family, and an incredibly timely topic: the right to have access to birth control/family planning. It is a truly endearing, yet complex, tale with incredibly rich and sympathetic characters. We learn a great deal about each of these women, ultimately rewarded by learning how they are each connected in the end. This is a book that will be savored by women of all ages, talked about at book clubs, and at the dinner table at night. It is a book that I can see hitting the big screen; I found myself planning the casting in my head as I read along. An emotionally charged, completely addictive book I recommend wholeheartedly.

Review: The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (August 17, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0307395030
  • Source: Publisher

 

In 1960’s Nashville, Bezellia Grove is the oldest daughter in a prominent family.  Her father is a doctor who would rather spend time with his patients than his own family, and her mother is a closet alcoholic. Bezellia and her sister are raised by their nanny, Maizelle, and the handyman, Nathanial. Bezellia treats them as members of her family while her mother treats them as pieces of property.

As a member of a prominent family, Bezellia is expected to accept her role by taking French lessons and attending cotillions.  Bezellia wants more out of life than that. 

 Bezellia’s name has been passed down from generation to generation. Her namesake was known for her courage and passion, and Bezellia vows to live up to that name. While others in the family line shortened the name, Bezellia totes it proudly.

When she meets Nathanial’s son, Samuel, she is instantly enamored. In a world where the color lines can’t be breached, this relationship is damned from the beginning.  Bezellia is forced to decide which name she will be known for; her first name or her last.

Gilmore is not afraid to touch on some pretty sensitive issues, including racism, alcoholism & insanity.  She doesn’t sugar coat it at all, despite how difficult it may to accept.  I fell in love with her characters, with Bezellia and her relationship with Samuel.  I had a special bond with these two characters in specific, largely due to the fact that my husband and I make up an interracial couple.  While the pain they went through is much larger than what my husband & I deal with on a regular basis, I could definitely sympathize with their struggle. 

THE IMPROPER LIFE OF BEZELLIA GROVE  is much more than “just” a novel about racism in the South.  It’s a tale of one young woman’s struggle to come to terms with who she is.  Does she live up to the expectations placed on her because of her family’s position in society, or does she live up to her own goals and aspirations. 

I can’t recommend this book enough to you. If there is one book you  must buy this summer, this should be it. I will forever cherish the gift Gilmore has given to me, through the characters in this book and her overwhelmingly powerful prose.

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