From Publishers Weekly
Layla Jay, the endearing young narrator of Marshall's third novel (following Right as Rain
), fakes salvation at the age of 13 to impress a boy at church. Religious themes play a large role in this coming-of-age tale set in the early 1960s, but the story actually revolves around a different kind of faith—a faith in people and in family, despite all their flaws. Layla Jay leads a relatively happy life in her small Mississippi town, but when her flakey alcoholic mother marries a hypocritical revivalist preacher, their home is thrown into chaos, and Layla Jay comes to realize that God answers prayers in perplexing and often painful ways. In the scattered, melodramatic first half of the book, disasters befall Layla Jay and her family one after another: her grandmother dies, her mother survives a near-fatal car accident, and Layla Jay escapes her stepfather's attempt to rape her only when her mother finishes him off with a 7-Up bottle. The second half of the novel then deepens into an exploration of the consequences of deceit and the nature of familial love. Throughout, Marshall propels the story with all-too-human characters whose faults are enormous and whose mistakes are almost inexcusable, but who are never beyond forgiveness.
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In Marshall's third novel set in sultry Zebulon, Mississippi, the author treads mother-daughter territory reminiscent of Janet Fitch's White Oleander
(1999) and Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here
Layla Jay and her mother, a widow on the prowl for a good man (or just a good time), stave off sorrow by indulging in Tastee Freeze hot-fudge sundaes: "Filled with that cup of joyful sweetness, suddenly you don't have the blues anymore." But when Mom marries lecherous evangelist Wallace during Layla Jay's first year of junior high, magnifying the trauma of a pair of family tragedies and general postpubescent confusion, the blues aren't so easy to chase away. Tension erupts in a grisly crime of passion, leaving Layla Jay contemplating perjury to protect her mother. Despite grim elements, Marshall propels her characters ever closer to contentment, introducing lovable supporting characters that balance the sorrow with perfect (often too-perfect) symmetry. But there is real complexity in the bond between mother and daughter, and the trials they endure leave one all the more satisfied when the maraschino-cherry-sweet conclusion hints at brighter horizons. Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved