It reprises the horror tales of racial strife in the sixties. I didn't find the period fun to live through, and my feeling now is that it's past and I would like to forget about it. But of course the past is never truly gone. Events of long ago continue to probe their ghostly fingers into the present. Racism waxes and wanes, but it lives on.
The Promised Land gives us a complex but tightly woven plot in which twelve-year old Joy, newly moved to northern Florida in the custody of her divorcing mother and having as yet no friends, is in the process of building a friendship with a biracial boy at school, Clay. She is unaware that the area, so close to Alabama and the drama of Montgomery, is a hotbed of the KKK. Meanwhile, Joy's mother, Jessica, has fallen in love with her lawyer, Bill McKendrick, who is a leader in the KKK. As both relationships deepen, the tension is stretched to an almost unbearable degree.
Joy does not dare tell her mother about her friend; she meets him at the library, claiming she is studying with a girl. Meanwhile, Clay's father is attempting to open a dress shop in the white area of town, and McKendrick along with other KKK members has vowed to stop him at all costs. Joy's mother, gaining hints of Joy's relationship to Clay and determined to stop it, takes Joy out of school. The library meetings grow increasingly important to Joy as Clay is now her only friend. With her mother away on dates with McKendrick, she is often alone. She begins to go home to dinner with Clay, at the very house the KKK has targeted for destruction. Events move toward their inevitable conclusion, and only a last-minute surprise twist of plot saves the book from becoming a Grand Opera story complete with all-around tragedy.
The twist of plot is believable and handled by the author with great skill. Valerie Stocking is best known as a playwright, but in this book she proves she can write vivid descriptions and bring characters to life on the page as well as the stage. The author says it is her wish that readers will feel grateful that it isn't the sixties any more. I can only answer: Yes!
Midwest Book Review