What a pleasant surprise this book was. It's the kind of book that makes me miss working in a bookstore because it would be such an easy recommendation to make to customers. It's good, engaging and well-written, and it's got a clear audience who will eat it up.
One part The Help
, one part Water for Elephants
, this compelling debut novel is the story of two women travelling from Arlington to Cincinnati for a funeral. Isabelle is 89 and unable to make the trip alone so she asks Dorrie, her African American hairdresser, to accompany her. Dorrie's family life is kind of a mess at the time, so she agrees. The narration bounces back and forth between the present and just before the start of World War II, when Isabelle was a teenager with the audacity to fall in love with a black man in rural Kentucky.
The book is structured in such a way that while Dorrie is dealing with the logistics of the road trip and trying to decide what to do about her teenage son and her budding relationship with a new man, Isabelle is relating her own story and explaining why she needs to travel to this funeral. There's a small amount of overlap in the two stories, but not so much that it feels like it's hitting you over the head. Some of the racial themes in the book are well-trod but the love story contained inside was so moving, I just had to know what would happen.
My only complaint is that the book reached its emotional climax and kept going for another 20-30 pages. This was necessary to resolve Dorrie's present-day story, but that resolution probably could have been briefer. I was so emotionally spent by that point that I more or less skimmed the last bit.
Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advance copy.