by Ann Hite
Shelly Parker is a 16-year-old, naïve, black servant to a white household in the North Carolina mountains during the Depression. She seriously despises the young white lady she is required to serve. She is also jealous of her, because this white child is in love with Shelly's older brother. Will leaves abruptly, without a note for her or her mother, but Shelly suspects something more serious is the cause. After Will leaves, Shelly is visited by the ghost of a young black girl, born in the 1870s. Shelly tries to ignore the ghost, but she is drawn into her story. Before the story's end, Shelly will experience the very real situations the ghost of Armetta Lolly needs to have aired before she can be at rest. It has been a long story in the making. Shelly must catch the story before everything comes unraveled and the price for the truth costs her life.
I had a hard time with the alternating first person writing style. The book has a family tree including many of the speaking characters, but not every person speaking is in that tree. It's a bit hard to follow, but it's worth pushing on through. This story is set in the mountains of North Carolina and alternates with the salt-water marshes of Georgia. There is an undercurrent of unease, and the very first line of the story pulls the reader in like an undertow. A white man from New York City is bringing his black girlfriend to visit Georgia during the Great Depression. How could you not hold your breath for the coming storm?
As you read on, you encounter women with very different opinions and actions, both white and black. It's filled with tension, and it isn't long before there's a murder with blame placed on the racial scapegoat. These women react differently to such events, and while they are polarized by the racial norm, they also find common ground. The story twists and turns as everyone tries to maintain their footing, even the shades, ghosts, and memories fade in and out of the telling.
Shelly, a 16-year-old black girl, must help other ghosts tell their story. They are bound to the people, places, and events until the telling brings them peace. Once satisfied, they can move on to their well-deserved rest. Shelly must find strength to stand up to the white preacher, Pastor Dobbins, and discover his horrible past that sent him to Black Mountain. I found myself cheering her on, and was surprised by the person who provided the support she needed.
I loved the colorful descriptions, the amazing history, and the final justification this story wove. Even now, days after reading, I find myself drawn back to the story. While it takes a little effort to read, this story completely makes sense, and the telling with multiple first person insight is brilliant. Don't pass this story over. Even if you are less impressed than I was, you'll be amazed at the rich history of the time and the veiled struggles of the day.
Moderate sexual tension and situations, PG13. Sexual discussion is appropriate for the time for behind-the-scenes descriptions among women. Does not rise to the level of erotica.