Every once in awhile I read a book that makes me want to hug it close to my heart and cherish it. I’ve read some page turners (i.e. anything by Paul Cleave) and I have read some ‘really good books’, especially lately. It takes a certain kind of book to feel like it has endeared itself to me.
It took me a few chapters to pick up the 1920’s Louisiana dialect, but once I got into it, I almost didn’t notice it. And perhaps it is the very similar cover, but my brain wanted to draw parallels to The Darkest Child– a mother who was known to be loose and considered a ‘disappointment’ of sorts by one or both parents, a child pretty much raising herself who wants to go to school and learn– and does very well at it. There’s also a similarity in the use of witchcraft. Tangy Mae’s grandmother used witchcraft and Arletta’s mother is a like a witch doctor, who uses herbs and plants, among other things to cast spells and draw spirits.
The story picks up for me when Mambo forces Arletta to move out at 14 and strike out on her own. With her best friend Safi, they settle in a nearby town and get jobs at the mill. I’m impressed with young Arletta and how she’s able to secure a nice place to live and become close with the landlady. It seems like things really fall into place for her, specifically whens he seeks out a new job and much later when she expresses her desire to work in Africa.
Several dark themes wind through this novel, which– maybe I am morbid- made it a page turner for me. Since she was a child, Arletta has endured a frightening recurring event. I was particularly moved by the scene in which she goes down to the river, intending to down herself but is encouraged to find her strength and press on. It is this ‘voice’ that she hears that becomes her constant companion and her strength when she feels she has none.
There’s so much to this story, most of which I can’t get to in this review. I want people to read it for themselves, get lost in it, engrossed it, laugh and cry and cheer for the revenge plot, because it is delicious!
This was an intense story, beautifully told.