This novel contains two stories that we know will connect. We can guess, but don’t know the full details until the end. It is based on shameful historical fact that makes us keep reading through the slightly klutzy text in the hope that, bloody hell, if this is true let’s make sure it never happens again. It goes on my “good holiday read” shelf. Probably wouldn’t take it to book club.
The interesting story is the one of a twelve-year-old river kid in Tennassee in 1939. Her mother is birthing twins on the houseboat and the black midwife walks out because she doesn’t want a dead white woman on her hands. When her father leaves for hospital in the skiff, the girl and her 4 siblings are kidnapped. This is a retelling of a bogey story as old as the hills (stabs me in the heart every time), with an orphanage, cellars, beatings, gruel, death and starvation until the cute blond kids get sold off to wealthy but infertile couples. The kids’ past disappears like the river and there is no psychological help for them ever apart from what they can cobble together themselves. It’s horrible.
The young narrator, Rill, is a gutsy little Huck Finn and her life on the family boat and the Tennessee Children’s Home is full of character and life.
I think the second story is a mistake, but there you are. This starts with a senator’s daughter in South Carolina in the present day, who stumbles on her grandmother’s secret past life and digs it all up. She needs a bit of complication (she’s political) and a bit of will-she-wont-she on the love front (enter a jock fiancé and a handsome maverick, who happens to be a single dad so scores highly on the compassion factor). We know where all this is going.
But yes, if you want a page turner, read the story of little Rill on the river and weep. You can skip the bits about the senator’s daughter.