This sequel to Luddy’s debut novel (Spelldown, 2008) continues the story of a young woman dealing with family, first love and the urge to escape her small South Carolina hometown in the early 1970s.
Seventeen-year-old Karlene Bridges can’t wait to get out of Red Clover. Her high school career is almost over, and she has a good shot at scholarships at several colleges, including Smith, the alma mater of her mentor and confidante, Mrs. Harrison. Unfortunately, Mrs. Harrison and her family are about to leave town. She’s not the only one leaving: Karlene’s love interest, Billy Ray Jenkins, is off serving in the Navy, and her other male friend, Spencer Randall, who she notices is looking mighty handsome lately, was just drafted. In fact, all the other boys in Red Clover are about to go off to Vietnam or have already died there. Karlene’s only respite from her loneliness lies in the idea of getting out of Red Clover. As a girl bordering on adulthood, she explores the ideas of sex and sexuality while following a deeply feminist philosophy. She’s happy that her older sister is experiencing her first pregnancy, but privately she thinks, “[y]ou’d think Gloria Jean was incubating the New Messiah, the way she and Mama go on about it.” And although her friends, such as Spencer’s sister, Lucinda, eagerly delve into romantic encounters, Karlene realizes the importance of protecting herself from an early or unplanned pregnancy; she takes to heart Mrs. Harrison’s admonition that “making love is dangerous for a woman, more so than for a man.” References to popular music, films and events of the time help illustrate the story’s themes, although younger readers may not immediately recognize them all. Luddy’s quick-witted, perceptive dialogue (“Sometimes lyrics brood in my heart. Sometimes they pop into my brain, but this one started in my epidermis”) breathes life into Karlene’s precocious personality. Anyone who’s experienced the restlessness of young adulthood will identify with Karlene’s yearning to leave her small town behind. However, Red Clover also seems to be the kind of place to which Karlene will happily return someday. Fans of Luddy’s first novel will be glad to have that opportunity here.
A charmingly perceptive follow-up that should appeal to both teenagers and adults.