Review of “Gods in Alabama” by Joshilyn Jackson

I almost stopped reading this. The very beginning of this book seemed clever but maybe a little too lightweight, until I got to page 25. Then I knew I had misjudged, and that this was a book I wanted to finish. And I was so pleased I did!

Arlene (or “Lena”) Fleet, age 27, hasn’t been back to Possett, Alabama in ten years, since she graduated from high school. She always had some excuse to stay in Chicago, but the real reason was that she had made a pact with God. In exchange for never lying, never fornicating, and never going back to Possett, she asked God to keep her safe from the repercussions of something bad that happened in Possett when she was fifteen.

But now, her African-American boyfriend Burr wants her to demonstrate her commitment by taking him to meet her family in Possett. And her life in Alabama is catching up with her in other ways, too, when an old friend comes looking for her. So she and Burr make the trip, and Lena is forced to confront not only her past, but her present, what with bringing a black boyfriend to meet her unsuspecting, very racist family. Somehow in the midst of all this, Lena must find redemption. And in the process, she learns secrets about herself even she didn’t know.

Evaluation: This book manages to be fun in spite of tackling serious subjects like lingering Southern racism, rape, depression, alcoholism, and abuse. These issues are blended into the story so well that you never feel like some author has come up with a weak plot just to be able to palm off social lessons on you. Moreover, the characters are treated with respect, and if they seem caricatured or stereotypical at first, it is only because the author has not yet revealed their depth to you. I am impressed with Jackson: it’s a very good book, and manages to be funny and suspenseful as well as having important messages to convey.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Grand Central Publishing, 2005

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23 Responses to Review of “Gods in Alabama” by Joshilyn Jackson

  1. Sandy says:

    You scared me there for a minute…I thought you were going to hate it! No, you are right, Jackson is quite the author. (I still think about “what have I got in my pocketses” and laugh). I just finished Backseat Saints, which is about Rose Mae Lolly. I don’t think it was quite as good as this one, but were the same tough subjects presented with a dry, southern wit. The audiobooks are really well done.

  2. Julie P. says:

    I am a big fan of Joshilyn Jackson’s. We read this one a few years ago for my book club an dit was one of the more popular picks.

  3. bermudaonion says:

    I”m so glad you didn’t stop! We lived in Alabama when I read this and I just loved it. I think the first line of the book is fantastic!

  4. JoAnn says:

    This has been on my radar for a while. Your first sentence worried me, but I’m glad it was worthwhile in the end.

  5. zibilee says:

    I have heard a lot of good things about this book, but yours is the first review I have really looked at. It does sound as though it’s a bit of a deeper book than I first thought, and maybe something I would like. I am glad that you enjoyed it and am going to have to look a little bit closer at it. Thanks for the thoughtful review!

  6. marthalama says:

    Joshilyn Jackson is an author who has been on my list for sometime but I haven’t gotten around to reading. I think I may have to move her up on my list and this sounds like the book.

  7. I really enjoyed this book. I read it pre-blogging days and I need to read more of her work. Jackson is a great voice in modern Southern literature. Thanks for reminding of this book today. 🙂

  8. Vasilly says:

    I’ve read so many positive reviews about this book. I had no idea that it contained so many heavy issues. It sounds like an amazing book. Will put on my tbr list.

  9. Margot says:

    I love it when a book surprises me in a good way. I’ve had this author on my list too but just haven’t gotten to her yet. Sounds like I need to push her further up the list. I’m glad you had such a good experience with this book.

  10. Staci says:

    Yep..I knew I had to read this one and your review totally confirmed this fact to me. 😀

  11. Lisa says:

    I read Backseat Saints this summer and thought it had promise it didn’t live up to but I may have to give this one a chance after all.

  12. Alyce says:

    This is not a book I would have picked up solely from the title or the cover, but I am interested in it after reading your review. Especially the aspect of her bringing home an African American boyfriend to meet her racist family.

  13. I thought this was a fun read. I have her 2nd book –Between Georgia (unread), but I loved her 3rd book –Backseat Saints.

    Loved reliving this one through your review….thanks

  14. nymeth says:

    Making a book about those themes sounds like quite a feat, but I’m glad to hear Jackson succeeds! I love it when an author manages to successfully combine seriousness and humour.

  15. softdrink says:

    I agree…when you start her books you think they’re fluffy, but then she manages to toss in some pretty deep subjects and redeem herself.

  16. I’m glad this book improved after the first few pages – I love when that happens! It’s impressive the author could cover so many tough subjects and still have a good story to them.

  17. I’ve had my eye on this one, and looks like I’m going to have to really track it down now!! 🙂

  18. gosh, I have this one in my TBR pile too, and am glad for the warning not to give up at he beginning. Serious topics, yet fun…sounds good.

  19. Jenners says:

    I’m listening to her latest book “Backseat Saints” right now (read by the author in the most delightful voice ever) and I heard that it features a bit character from this book, which I also plan to read a one point.

  20. Stephanie says:

    This sounds like something I’d really enjoy. Thank you!

  21. I really liked BACKSEAT SAINTS, and everyone (including you), who has read GODS IN ALABAMA tells me this is Joshilyn Jackson at the top of her game. I must get to this one … soon …

    (and I appreciate the advice you give of ‘soldier on past page 25’ )

  22. stacybuckeye says:

    I keep reading great things about this author, but haven’t tried one of her books yet. This one is on my tbr list.

  23. amymckie says:

    Thanks for this recommendation, it does sound really great!

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