A runaway farm girl sets out to find her brother in Lovett’s (Saving Miss Lillian, 2017, etc.) latest novel.
In the summer of 1924, 14-and-a-half-year-old Tenny Chance heads to Ashbyville, Georgia, after running away from the tenant shack on a Georgia plantation where she lived with her family. Her brother, Byron, had hopped a freight train after her mother’s death and never returned. Tenny also suspected that her father, an alcoholic, may have tried to sell her to their landlord for $25. Her dream is to find Byron and make sufficient money to return to the shack and save the rest of her family from hardship. On her way to Ashbyville, Tenny is secretly photographed bathing in a river by 17-year-old Gussie Pemberton and her young cousin Pete Godwin. Gussie’s family farm is struggling to make profit, and she’s dazzled by the thought of making it as a photographer in New York City. Meanwhile, Pete can’t stop thinking about Tenny. The fate of these characters becomes intriguingly intertwined as they search for success and happiness—but a conniving new mill manager, Ned Fletcher, could put their dreams in jeopardy. This novel has several appealing aspects, including the descriptive ease with which Lovett writes—an unfussy, unhurried style that quickly becomes endearing: “Somewhere the river rustled and birds chirped in the trees and August insects filled the air with humming.” As in her previous novels, Lovett proves herself to be a master of plot; the relationship between Tenny, who’s striving to pull herself out of the gutter, and Gussie, who’s reaching for the stars, could easily feel contrived, but it never does. Lovett unfurls the narrative with a tantalizing slowness that allows her to fully develop her characters, and readers will find themselves rooting for them. The denouement may feel a bit too polished for some readers, but others will find it deeply moving.
A richly detailed and thoroughly entertaining historical tale.