In this debut work of fiction, Grace Stevens, a promising piano player from a struggling family, goes on a journey of love and loss before making her way back home to the foothills of east Tennessee.
Growing up in the 1960s in Grantville, a small mill town in Tennessee, Grace loves to play the piano, thumping out tunes by ear. Her mother, Arlene, her aunt Doris and her beloved Grammie decide that Grace must get piano lessons from the affluent widow, former Richmond belle and one-time classical pianist who lives in a gracious mansion in the rich part of town. Grace’s father, Hoyt, objects to this idea, preferring to spend cash on a rifle or booze, so the women scrape together the money in secret. While initially crushed by her teacher’s pronouncement that she must unlearn all her bad habits and begin anew, Grace becomes a diligent student, earning the admiration and patronage of “Miss Bertie” and eventually a music scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville. At college, Grace forges an unlikely friendship with her privileged roommate, expands her horizons as a pianist for hire, and engages in a romance that further pushes her into her family’s legacy of alcohol abuse. By novel’s end, Grace reconnects to her talent, treasures the network of support she’s blessed with and builds a new life for herself back in Grantville. Debut author Walker infuses a rich Southern flavor into what is certainly a heartfelt tale. First-person narrator Grace is in the tradition of such wise-child observers as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) and the eponymous heroine in Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster (1987). While her derailment from her music studies is somewhat disappointing, and the cause for it rather clichéd, Grace’s realization of what’s really important, and her appreciation of the roles that others have played in her life, is truly touching and transcendent. Unlike many authors working in the genre, Walker also conveys nuanced sympathy for her male characters beside an emphasis on sustaining sisterhood.
Compassionate coming-of-age novel replete with colorful Southern characters and charm.