Every summer deserves a good book, and this summer is no exception. Not sure about you, but I’ve spent many summers poolside with a book in hand, getting lost in a good story. To me there’s nothing more relaxing than sinking my teeth into a great book, and I’ve got a great one on deck for our first addition of #WanderfulReads. Let me introduce Dollbaby, a coming of age story by Laura Lane McNeal.
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Set in 1960’s New Orleans, Dollbaby takes readers on a journey of self-discovery in a tale of the ties-that-bind. We first meet the main character, Ibby Bell, at age 11. Her eccentric mother, Vidrine, has just dropped her on Fanny’s doorstep. We soon learn that Fanny is the grandmother Ibby’s never met.
Ibby’s only possessions are her one small suitcase and her recently deceased father’s urn. She’s scared, uncertain of what to expect during her supposedly short stay. Her father’s untimely death has left her alone with her eccentric mother, who’s now depositing her at Fanny’s Queen Anne Victorian mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans. Everything was changing. Forever.
Ibby’s greeted by Queenie and Dollbaby, a loving mother-daughter duo who work for Fanny. We soon learn that Queenie and Dollbaby do much more than keep house. They also keep secrets...Fanny's secrets. Ibby soon learns that the unusual Fanny leads a rather interesting life, part bookie and part New Orleans legend.
Like all the other women around her, Ibby quickly comes to revere her grandmother as a force to be reckoned with, a point of view shared by Queenie, who’s most devoted to Fanny. She'll eventually discover that all of Queenie's family are tied to Fanny in some way. In fact, the people living and working inside the Queen Anne mansion are all mixed up, racially and emotionally.
The book follows Ibby’s life over the course of the next 6 years as she’s is introduced to the social circles and racial norms of 1960’s New Orleans. Ibby grows to love and understand her new family, something she’d never really had. She learns hard lessons about race during the tense Civil Rights era, lessons that will eventually change the way she views herself and her family.
My Thoughts on Dollbaby:
I truly loved Dollbaby but have to admit that I may be a bit biased. Drawn-in by the cover (which features a beautiful Queen Anne Victorian mansion like the one described in the book) the story instantly felt familiar. The book features my favorite US city, New Orleans, quite prominently. The city is easily the 5th character in the story, as so much of the story development depends on the city. The writer unveils the history of the Bell family much the same way that New Orleans unveils herself to visitors: slowly, layer by layer.
I was most impressed by the language and dialogue of the novel; the Southern-isms, slang and drawl throughout the book were familiar and comforting. Lane’s love and reverence for the various characters comes spilling out through the pages of Dollbaby. I especially loved her attention to the character development, in particular the story of Queenie and Fanny, the matriarchs of the family. Their lives were intertwined in such a way that catches readers off guard and endears both characters.
The underlying racial tension throughout the book serves to heighten the emotional connection to all the characters. One can’t help but pause and give thought to how difficult life must have been for African Americans in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement, let alone today. I only wish there would have been a little bit more about the Movement, as I felt it was really relevant but sometimes got lost in the story telling.
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I hoped y'all liked the first edition of #WanderfulReads. Be sure to use the link above to purchase your copy of Dollbaby. By doing so you'll support me and my website.
I'm just as excited about the next edition of #WanderfulReads, a wonderful summertime read. It's a showstopper for sure!
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