I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
When I first heard about this book, it was billed as a read-alike for THE HELP. I loved THE HELP so that description immediately attracted me to the book. However, I feel that comparing this book to THE HELP is doing it a disservice. Yes, it takes place during the 1960s. Yes, civil rights issues are highlighted. Yes, some of the main characters of the novel are African-American women in domestic service. But, for me, that is where the comparisons end.
Liberty "Ibby" Bell is unceremoniously dropped off by her mother at the home of the grandmother she has never met when he father unexpectedly dies in the Summer of 1964. Everything about Grandmother Fanny's New Orleans house is foreign to Ibby. Especially the idea of hired help. Fanny employs a cook named Queenie and her daughter Dollbaby. Dollbaby has gotten involved in the Civil Rights movement and sneaks out to participate in acts of civil disobedience. Dollbaby and Queenie help Ibby to navigate her way through her new life. Ibby learns the hard truth about race in the South over her years with Fanny. During that time, family secrets come to light that will change everything.
I describe this book to people as THE HELP meets Fannie Flagg. It has a lot more humor than the THE HELP and the focus is much more on the family dynamics than the the Civil Rights movement. As long-time readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan of family secret dramas. This one does not disappoint in that department. The characters are all interesting and compelling. I like to think about how books could be adapted into movies and I visualized Jessica Lange as Fanny. It took a little while for the story to get going, but once it did I was pulled in and could not put the book down. The ending was especially satisfying.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly Recommended. One of my favorite books this year. A great family drama with a lot of love and humor.