In this novel, life turns toward a dark horizon for a precocious adolescent grieving for her father in 1941 Tennessee.
It’s difficult to harbor secrets in a rural mountain town of maybe 80 souls, especially when adult siblings live within spitting distance of the family home. Most of the townsmen work at the sawmill, and most of the young women have been harassed at one time or another by creepy Johnny Monroe. But Louisa May McAllister, nicknamed Wildflower, knows that revealing her frequent forays to the cemetery, where she talks to her beloved late father, would only rile her embittered mother. She also knows to hide her “secret sense,” as it would evoke scorn from all save eccentric Aunt Sadie, who shares her tomboy niece’s gift. Those secrets come at a cost when, on one of her graveyard visits, Louisa May ignores her premonition of danger. The consequences—somewhat expected yet still horrific—are buffered by the visions into which the 13-year-old escapes. Sharp-witted, strong, curious and distrustful of any authority figure not living up to her standards—including God—Louisa May immerses us in her world with astute observations and wonderfully turned phrases, with nary a cliché to be found. She could be an adolescent Scout Finch, had Scout’s father died unexpectedly and her life taken a bad turn. Though her story is full of pathos and loss, her sorrow is genuine and refreshingly free of self-pity. She accepts that she and her mother are “like vinegar and soda, always reacting,” that her best friend has grown distant, and that despite the preacher’s condemnation, a young suicide victim should be sent “to the head of heaven’s line.” Her connection to the land—a presence as vividly portrayed as any character—makes her compassionate but tough; she’s as willing to see trees as angels as she is to join her brothers-in-law in seeking revenge. By necessity, Louisa May grows up quickly, but by her secret sense, she also understands forgiveness.
A quietly powerful story, at times harrowing but ultimately a joy to read.