The times, they are a changin’ in Arkansas in this third installment of a series.
This volume picks up immediately after Book 2, with Julie Morgan struggling in the wake of her baby’s birth and her mother’s recent death in 1957. When Julie flees Happiness House, a home for unwed mothers, and heads to El Dorado, she leaves behind her baby and postpones any real decision about her future. Julie wants to reclaim her old life, but she physically and emotionally can’t be the same girl. She is now a young woman who not only lost her mother, but is also a mom herself. While she secretly lived in Happiness House, her half sister and look-alike, Carmen, assumed Julie’s identity in El Dorado. Now Julie must live as Carmen and adapt to high school as an outsider. Early on, Julie muses: “This deception business will take some getting used to.” Most difficult of all, Julie only has 90 days to decide whether she wants to bring her baby home and become a social pariah or forfeit her parental rights and give her son up for adoption. In addition to Julie’s personal challenges, current events are front and center in the novel. El Dorado, like the entire nation, is riveted by the forced integration of Little Rock Central High School, and racially charged discussions are unavoidable in the conservative Southern town. Rascoe Keenan’s (In Those Dazzling Days of Elvis, 2017, etc.) decision to include two African-American characters, women whom the white protagonist counts as friends, provides a desperately needed perspective for Julie and readers. This is the strongest book in The Days of Elvis series so far, as the characters are well-developed and the focus on national events gives added weight to the small-town story. The underlying thread running through the engrossing narrative is power and the struggle against judgment and oppression. When Elvis, a wise fairy godfather at this point, tells Julie, “It’s too bad the woman has to pay for the consequences of a natural thing between two people who love each other,” he gets right to the heart of this tale.
A coming-of-age story that deftly demonstrates the potency of standing up for one’s beliefs.