Friday, October 24, 2008

Review: Cold Rock River

Summary: In 1963 rural Georgia, with the Vietnam War cranking up, pregnant seventeen-year-old Adie Jenkins discovers the diary of pregnant seventeen-year-old Tempe Jordan, a slave girl, begun as the Civil War was winding down. Adie is haunted by the memory of her dead sister; Tempe is overcome with grief over the sale of her three children sired by her master. Adie — married to Buck, her baby's skirt-chasing father — is unprepared for marriage and motherhood. She spends her days with her new baby, Grace Annie. Buck spends his with the conniving daughter of the man he works for.

Adie welcomes the friendship of midwife Willa Mae Satterfield. Having grown close to her after Grace Annie's birth, Adie confides that her baby sister, Annie, survived choking on a jelly bean only to down in Cold Rock River a few months later. Willa Mae replies, "My two little chillins Georgia and Calvin drowns in that river, too." What she won't say is how and why.

Adie takes refuge in Tempe's journal. It tells an amazing tale, but the further she reads, the more questions the diary raises in her mind. After "the freedom" comes, Tempe sets out to find her lost children and meets Tom Barber, another freed slave. Tom and Tempe marry and have one daughter, Heart. When Tom is killed in a drunken brawl, Tempe takes Heart and settles on a small patch of land in North Georgia. There, Heart blossoms, eventually marrying and giving birth to Georgia and Calvin. Adie is filled with questions: Could Willa Mae be Heart? How — and why — did the children die? And is it possible that the man who now owns the house in which she lives is Willa Mae's grandson?

As Cold Rock River rushes to its surprising, shocking ending, questions of family, race, love, loss, and longing are loosed from the mysterious secrets that have been kept for too long. And the depth of the connection between the two women united by place and separated by race — and a century — is revealed. -- Cumberland House

A few months ago, I read and reviewed a book by Jackie Lee Miles called DIVORCING DWAYNE. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and thought it was a hoot! So when the opportunity came up for me to read another one of Ms. Miles' novels COLD ROCK RIVER, I couldn't wait. While DIVORCING DWAYNE was more of a light Southern read, I would classify COLD ROCK RIVER as having a much more serious subject matter, but still very much a Southern book.

While I read COLD ROCK RIVER, I did see a little bit of the DIVORCING DWAYNE Jackie Lee Miles shining through. The characters, while not as outrageous, still had their fair share of quirks and funny moments. I especially noticed some similarities in the Southern dialogue and basic reflections on life. But that's pretty much where the similarities ended between the two books. COLD ROCK RIVER dealt with a much heavier subject matter -- a young girl whose life and her family were drastically changed for the worse after a horrendous accident.

The story is told through the voice of Adie who blames herself for the death of her younger sister. She is obviously dealing with a lot of grief and pain, but I found her to be just a wonderful, lovable character. Despite all of her heartaches and disappointments in life, her inner strength was so strong. You couldn't help but root for her and hope she would somehow find happiness. Many of the people in Adie's life were also terrific characters. By the end of the book, I absolutely adored Adie's mother and I thought her insights into life and people were incredibly profound. I also loved Adie's new friends, Margaret Mary and Murphy. Both were very special people whom Adie learned to love and depend on.

Not only did I love the story of Adie, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the side story about the newly freed slave Tempe. When Adie moves to a new town, she becomes friends with an elderly black woman named Willa Mae. When Adie is in labor with her first child, Willa Mae begins reading Tempe's journal to her to help her get through the pains. Adie immediately becomes enthralled with Tempe's story; and she realizes that both she and Tempe are continually troubled by events that occurred in their past -- Adie for losing her sister and Tempe for losing her children.

So far, I have enjoyed both of Ms. Miles' books that I've read -- I'm beginning to see a pattern here. I now consider myself a fan of Ms. Miles! I would love to read Ms. Miles' other Southern fiction novel ROSEFLOWER CREEK which is a story told through the eyes of a young girl who tries to "fix" her very messed up stepfather. There are also two more of the DWAYNE series that look hilarious too!

I really, really liked this book and read it in just a day -- I didn't want to put it down. I was immediately drawn into Adie's story and just loved her character. I loved how the characters were definitely flawed and very human. I think this book would make a perfect selection for a lot of book clubs. The novel has wonderful characters, a great storyline and is very easy to read. There is a reading guide in the back of the book as well as loads of delicious recipes, an interview with the author, and questions answered by the author.


bermudaonion said...

I love books set in the South. This one sounds great. Thanks for the review.

Dar said...

Great review. I've had this one on my radar for a while. It sounds like such a good book.

Anna said...

I can't wait to read this one! I'm a tour host for it next month. Sounds great!

Diary of an Eccentric