A richly detailed debut novel of a Southern girl’s 1960s childhood.
Twelve-year-old Lucy Moore tells the story of her life in Memphis, Tennessee, after her mother and two sisters relocate from Germantown. She tells tales of warmth and nostalgia—walking to the drug store for sodas, saving up coins to purchase dolls, frying an egg on the pavement to test the summer heat—but also reveals the era’s atmosphere of racism. The white Lucy isn’t merely an innocent observer, either; she antagonizes Lila, the family’s African-American housekeeper, by taunting her with hurtful, racial chants.But although Lucy can be cruel, her older sister Caroline and their newly divorced mother, Maggie, treat Lila with respect. Lucy’s father left the family on Christmas Day 1965, and when he later reappears at the house unexpectedly, on the run from the police, Lucy and Caroline are dismayed. Jacobs creates suspense by shifting back to the days right after he left the family, when generous and wealthy relatives Aunt Dodo and Uncle Herman welcomed Maggie and the children for a visit to their St. Louis home. Later, in 1966, Lucy announces that she would like to be a nun, and Maggie arranges a tour of the Sisters of Sorrows Convent, where, Lucy admits, “I began to feel true sorrow for them, rather than the awe I had felt earlier.” Throughout, Lucy struggles with both her father’s absence and the complexities of racism, which turn out to be far more connected than she realizes. Jacobs is a talented, descriptive writer who provides particularly lush descriptions of food: “The cole slaw was smooth and rich and creamy, like my red velvet skirt that I wore last Christmas, and the baked beans were served in little plastic cups, a perfect crusted top waiting to be punched with the tines of our forks.” Lucy and Caroline are well-developed characters, but many of the story’s doting and affectionate adults are too similar. The exception is Lucy’s father, whose criminal transgression is finally revealed toward the novel’s end.
A brief but enjoyable historical novel.