Graham’s debut novel tells the story of a plucky young Kentucky girl, from birth to adulthood.
The story centers on a girl named California May—dubbed “Callie May” by her friends and family—and her upbringing outside of Belmont, Ky., in the 1920s. At the start, Callie May is just like any other bright, adventurous 8-year-old young girl, and the book’s first part includes all the classic vignettes of girlhood, from playground fights to new best friends to first loves and school dances. Readers then follow Callie May and her siblings as they fall in love, get married and have children; Callie May’s brother even gets shipped off to war. Graham’s book spans more than 50 years in just 296 pages, and due to this expansive time frame (and the novel’s large number of characters), it often feels as if far too many storylines have been crammed into a single book. As a result, readers may feel that each subplot deserves more time and attention than it receives. Since Graham’s book is very similar to classic children’s tales, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, it might have been similarly separated into several installments, with each focused on one particular stage of Callie May’s life. The book is also rather dark for a young audience, as there’s a lot of death throughout—due to war, illness and even murder—and it might have benefited from a lighter tone. That said, one of the book’s strengths is how it seamlessly communicates its period setting through the use of subtle details in the text and dialogue. Overall, Graham’s novel offers readers an endearing story in the vein of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables or Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series.
An often charming, if overstuffed, historical novel.