A columnist, copywriter, and graphic designer combines a coming-of-age novel and a memoir.
Josephine “Josie” Grace Flint, aka Jaybird, lives a fairly complacent existence in middle-class Atlanta in the 1960s. The eldest of three girls, she has two loving parents—her father, Cooper, a devoted Georgia Bulldog fan, and her charismatic mother, Beverly. Her paternal grandmother and namesake, Annie Jo, lives nearby, taking an active role in her granddaughters’ lives. Then a tragedy involving Josie’s father occurs on April Fools’ Day 1968, forever altering her family’s structure. As she and her sisters, mother, and grandmother reel from their personal loss, Atlanta endures its own heartbreak a mere three days later, when Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis. Chapters from Josie’s teenage years alternate with her adult confrontation with another misfortune—Annie Jo’s fatal stroke on April Fools’ Day 2003. Annie Jo’s death reunites Josie and her sisters, along with her extended family, which now includes her stepsister LaDarla Dalrymple. A shocking discovery in Annie Jo’s personal effects leads to the re-evaluation of the murder of Izzy Jackson—the son of the Dalrymple family’s black maid—in downtown Atlanta in 1969. Florence (You’ve Got a Wedgie, Cha Cha Cha, 2016), a longtime Atlanta resident, expertly captures the city in the ’60s, with its indoctrinated, inherent racism, challenged by some but supported by others. At one point, Josie watches a cat rescue tale on the TV news (“It struck me how the cat story got as much time and photos as the Negro man that was dragged behind a car and left for dead”). In addition, the author deftly explores the early influences of the sexual revolution, which hits a little too close to home in Josie’s case. Florence’s long career in journalism is evident in the flawless writing, but the pacing is a bit off. More attention could have been devoted to the murder mystery, which seems like an afterthought but is far more engrossing than the crafts and outfits orchestrated by Annie Jo that Florence chronicles. Nevertheless, the overarching theme of Josie’s complicated relationship with her father, particularly as the true circumstances of his death become known, transcends other story threads. Florence’s skillful portrayal of ’60s Atlanta elevates this novel to striking historical fiction.
An absorbing family saga provides a first-person account of Atlanta during the crucial civil rights era while also covering the early 21st century.