MISS OPHELIA by Mary Burnett Smith

MISS OPHELIA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A gently affecting tale set in the apartheid-striated Virginia of 1948, where a young girl in a rural ""colored"" community learns something about the complexities of adult love. Eleven-year-old Belly (Isabel) lives with her bravely buoyant widowed mother Lizzie and her compassionate uncle Willie, who muffles his emotional wounds from the war with booze. Belly is a spikey, resilient kid who loves reading and banging on a neighbor's ancient piano, and who hates the prospect of going to the nearby town of Jamison to care for mean Aunt Rachel after her operation. She is deeply lonely there, but things look up when she begins taking piano lessons from Miss Ophelia, Lizzie's childhood friend, and days with gloomy Rachel are brightened some by her husband Avery, a real gentleman with a sense of fun. Little Jimmy next door is a pest who adores Belly and tags along, even to her lessons with Miss Ophelia. But Ophelia, meltingly kind, is a quiet goad to an adolescent conscience, and Belly learns better Jimmy-management. The three weeks Aunt Rachel is in the hospital are paradisiacal, as Miss Ophelia's music, lemonade, and the scent of summer flowers serve to bring together in companionship young and old alike, offering them a fragile shelter from the unpleasant facts of their existence: Avery (his odd marriage); Jimmy (abused by his parents); and Belly, beginning to emerge into a muddled awareness of adolescence. Lovely Miss Ophelia, though, has a secret, a shocker, having to do with a hidden love. Its revelation will help Belly to understand that there is a kind of triumph in commitment, sacrifice, and deep, true love. Smith has richly realized the ritual courtesies and dynamic village unity of an isolated community, and her people are as warmly familiar as good neighbors. An attractive first novel, then, told with a smooth pro confidence, and with the style and ambiance of post--WW II popular fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Morrow