Joshilyn Jackson returns to Alabama to bring us this story full of entertaining and appealing characters, while also providing an expert look at manners and mores in the contemporary South.
Leia Birch Briggs, a comic book artist who is 38 and single, suddenly finds herself pregnant by a man she met at a recent comic book convention in Atlanta who was disguised as “Batman.” Batman was not only wearing a black costume, but was black himself, a fact that did not matter to Leia, but which will have big repercussions for the baby as well as with her very Southern white family in Alabama.
She has also just learned that her 90-year-old grandmother “Birchie” is displaying alarming signs of dementia. Wattie Price, Birchie’s BFF, has apparently hidden this problem successfully from the family as well as the town until now.
Leia drives down to Alabama to see what is going on with Birchie. She agrees to take her 13-year-old niece Lavender along, since Leia’s stepsister Rachel is having a crisis in her marriage to Jake.
It all sounds a bit complicated, but the author brings everyone into focus quickly with her trademark warmth and humor.
There are some villains in the piece too, such as some of the residents of Birchville (her grandmother’s grandfather founded the town) who still adhere to the prejudices of the “Old South,” or “Second South” as Leia calls it. The First South, “her” South, “was all sweet tea and decency and Jesus, and it was a real, true place.” But there was another South, “plagued still with the legacies of slavery and war and segregation.” Color continued to divide this Second South, and darkness and hate still made the territory a contested one. Leia didn’t think she could bring up her baby in this Second South. (She called the baby, whom she “knew” to be a boy, Digby, for no special reason – the name just occurred to her one day. She didn’t even know the father’s name, but she knew she didn’t want to expose Digby to the hatred and injustice he might experience in a place like that.)
Further upheaval ensues when Rachel drives down and also stays at the house. Rachel accuses Leia of expressing long pent-up resentments through the medium of her art – especially her two main comic characters, Violence and Violet.
Meanwhile, as the summer passes, Lavender is spending more and more time with two neighbor boys, Hugh and Jeffrey, and Leia worries what they are up to. She is shocked to find out what it is, and it profoundly affects all of them.
All of these plot strands collide, and secrets kept covered up in this small town come spilling out. But this is not an unhappy or scary book; it is absolutely charming, as well as intelligent, funny, and full of heart.
Evaluation: Joshilyn Jackson is an author not to be missed. As with her other books, her main female characters, who span generations, are delightful: full of spit and vinegar, loyalty to friends and family, and an underlying goodness. She also addresses the concerns of teens, young and middle aged women, and older women seamlessly, with an impassioned love and respect for all of them. Unlike many books labeled as “women’s fiction,” this author elevates the quality of her prose by integrating issues of class, race, self-actualization, and morality into her stories of the deep ties of family and upbringing.
Published by William Morrow, 2017