A quadriplegic mother, the 1964 Summer of Freedom and a timely visit from Elvis all come to play in Berg’s latest quick-read tearjerker.
During this historic summer in Mississippi, 13-year-old Diana Dunn is less concerned with black-voter registration (in fact, she’s not quite sure what all the fuss is about) than putting on backyard plays with best friend Suralee, and carving out some kind of independence from a life of caring for her disabled mother. Late in her pregnancy, Diana’s mother Paige contracted polio, and then miraculously gave birth to Diana in an iron lung. Her husband quickly divorced her and offered to adopt their baby, but Paige was made of stronger stuff and insisted on raising Diana herself. After three years in the iron lung, Paige returned home (Diana is raised by caretaker Peacie) paralyzed below the neck, and with a fierce determination to do right by her daughter. The two share a warm, companionable relationship, as Paige rules the roost despite her immobility (Diana obediently offers up a finger for Paige to bite whenever she misbehaves). In fact, Paige is a bit of a wonder—she has a couple of suitors, she paints, writes songs and always has time for backyard sunbathing. No-nonsense Peacie helps care for Paige and Diana, and through her and her boyfriend LaRue, the struggle for civil rights comes to the Dunn household. LaRue has recently learned how to read and has become politicized, despite the Sheriff’s ominous warning not to cause trouble. Diana’s teen worries (kissing for the first time, among them) are soon overshadowed by the difficulties of real life, including LaRue’s imprisonment and the very real potential of social services putting her in foster care. Berg (The Year of Pleasures, 2005, etc.) has the components of a forceful drama in place, but her tale lacks emotional resonance and offers an ending that defies the rest of the novel’s realism.
A feathery feel-good story about triumph over adversity—probably another hit for Berg.