This book review has been a long time coming. I met the author online about 3 years ago on MySpace and soon after connected with her on Facebook. After about a year or so, I learned that she had been featured in Essence Magazine. So of course I googled her ('cause I'm nosy curious like that) and found out that she has received some impressive acclaim for her novels, Going Down South and Middle Sister. So I emailed her to congratulate her for all of her success, yada yada yada. I'm reviewing it today, a few months later than I had hoped to. Alas, here we are.
I've read Going Down South two and a half times already. After the first time, I hugged it. Remember the last time I hugged a book? I am a book hugger. But I reserve hugs only for the books that deeply resonate with me. Going Down South easily became one of my favorites. I am a sucker for novels set in the south--add to that a poignant coming of age story, family secrets, black people, forbidden love, racists and a trip back to a time before urban minority neighborhoods were plagued with poverty and violence and there was a healthy dose of shame attached to being pregnant in high school and I am a happy sucker.
Going Down South is a story about book-smart, 15-year old Olivia Jean, her beautiful, proud, sharp-tongued mother Daisy, and Daisy's no-nonsense mother, Birdie. Olivia Jean ends up pregnant (without even really understanding what sex is) and in order to keep Olivia's pregnancy a secret from friends and neighbors, Daisy decides to send her to live out her pregnancy and birth down south with Birdie. When they arrive, Birdie welcomes Olivia Jean, but will only allow her to stay there if Daisy stays too. Since the mother-daughter relationships between these women are far from warm and loving, their time together in the home where Daisy grew up is full of tension, growth and profound revelations.
The book is written in third person omniscient, in a voice so perfectly southern that you just want to read it at a slow pace the way you know a southern person would tell the story. All easy and sing-songy...almost like the narrator from that TV show Dukes of Hazard, except the voice is that of a mature southern woman rather than an older white guy. Some of y'all probably don't even remember that show, but hopefully, you see what I am getting at. With phrases like "sassy-tailed girl" and "monthly curses" you have no choice but to go back there--to the 1960's south. And the descriptions are so vivid and beautifully written. That is a big part of why Going Down South is hug-worthy for me. I will show y'all what I mean. Here is an excerpt from the novel where she describes one of the characters' singing:
" He'd start low, and his chin fell into his chest as if there were something caught there, and for a minute he looked like a bullfrog, with a puffed-up neck and wide pop eyes. And then suddenly he raised his head and the song rolled out, rich and pure, sounding so proper, making a body want to sit down somewhere and listen."
See?! Can't you hear him? "...making a body want to sit down somewhere and listen." Not "somebody", but "a body" like if your body just reacts to the sound of his voice involuntarily and you just sit down "somewhere" without even a thought. Her words put you right inside their world. And she does this throughout the book.
I enjoyed reading and re-reading this novel. Along with Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston and Sugar and This Bitter Earth, both by Bernice McFadden, I look forward to sharing Bonnie Glover's Going Down South with friends and any daughter I might give birth to one day.
GIVEAWAY:I'm keeping my signed copy, but I have one to give away to one lucky HomeGirl reader! To WIN a copy of Going Down South, simply email me at homegirlblog at hotmail dot com. Ends August 5th.
*Full Disclosure: I received a signed copy from the author/representative of the author to review. And y'all know I'm honest when I review books on this blog. This post is an honest representation of my opinion of the novel.