Rich and saddled with the baggage of an generations-old family name, Bezellia is not living the life that society would think. With a father who works at the hospital more than he is home, and a mother who cares more about her standing in society and her gin and tonics than her kids, Bezellia and her younger sister are raised by their black servants. They grow to fear their mother's drunken temper, and breathe a sigh of relief when she is ushered off for "vacations". As a result, Bezellia learns to fend for herself and is forced to accept adult responsibilities long before she should.
We follow Bezellia as she grows up in the South in the '60's, from her first kiss, to a summer love, to the love of her life who happens to have the wrong color skin. She encounters racism in her home, in the community, and throughout her young adulthood, which is confusing and frustrating since her servants are the closest family she has. In college, she is exposed to feminism and equal rights, and she grows to be a flawed but empowered woman that you can't help but love.
While this is a coming-of-age tale, Southern style, Gilmore gives it to us straight and unadorned. She not only captures the sticky, humid feel of the deep south, the euphoria and confusion of young love, but the hatred and turmoil of the era, and all characters, black and white, are flawed and human.
My thoughts: I really had no expectations going into this novel, except that it was Southern fiction. Imagine my surprise and delight when I read it in record Sandy-time, which was about two days. I couldn't put it down, the writing was so compelling. It swept me up in it's depth of emotion, it's serious historical value, and it's charm.
I've seen some criticism for the character of Bezellia, accusing her of being an unrelatable character. I really don't get this at all. I think Gilmore nailed her as a plucky, teenage girl who grew up wanting love, wanting to please her parents, wanting independence. She was no puritan either - she was curious about boys and she experimented. She made mistakes, her relationships were complicated, and she didn't necessarily ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. All of this was refreshing as hell.
I also appreciated the historical references...Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam, an impassioned speech by Gloria Steinem, and even Loretta Lynn singing out of a garage studio in her early years, all seen through Bezellia's eyes. It makes the story relevant and helps us better understand the environment that influenced our heroine.
Although this book could be considered Young Adult (although I'm not sure if it has been officially categorized as such), I would suggest some caution for young teens as there are some sex scenes, though not graphic.
Bottom line - read it. Now.
5 out of 5 stars