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A jealous, scourge-of-the-devil mother terrorizes her 12-year-old daughter on their rural north Texas wheat farm—in this thin, sweet, ultimately two-dimensional debut written in the form of the girl’s diary.

It’s the summer of 1960 and Lou Ann Campbell sneaks entries in her diary because her mother, Loretta, hunts through her room to make sure she’s not hiding anything. Loretta also examines her daughter’s daily bowel movements and keeps Lou Ann busy braiding plastic around hangers so the devil can’t get her. Loretta is presumably pregnant again after five miscarriages, but it’s dubious, and when her husband, Bill, starts messing around with the neighbor ladies, she avenges herself by making life hell for the family (there is also a 14-year-old son, Will) and farmhands who eat regularly at her table. Food is spiced beyond edibility, cheap plastic flowers and girlie magazines appear all over the house, and Loretta won’t stop using her own daughter as an instrument in shaming her husband. Lou Ann, a quiet, lonely child who has fashioned dolls for each sibling she has “lost” and keeps them hidden safely in a box, observes her mother’s escalating fury at a cool, first-person distance as if she has never been allowed to feel for herself; in effect, the story becomes the girl’s triumphant (though melodramatic) wrenching back of her free will. There are convincing details of life on a wheat farm and serviceable if oversimple depictions of a daughter’s trepidation at the dawn of her womanhood (“Well well well . . . I have started ministrating”). Overall, however, there's little emotional depth or a richness of characterization that could carry it farther than it now goes. Loretta comes off merely as an evil witch who would destroy her daughter for a brand-new modern refrigerator—in aquamarine.

An unassuming treatment that fails to meet the terms of its explosive tale, unrealistically minimizing it instead.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-57322-219-4
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2002