Today I have a fabulous book to share with you: Pamela Webber’s The Wiregrass. I was contacted earlier in the summer about the possibility of reviewing this book as part of the release tour. After checking out the book a little online, I didn’t hesitate to say yes! And I hope you’ll pick up this title too–if you like historical fiction, Southern literature, or good characters, this book is for you! Read on to find out more. 🙂
But first, a description of the book from the publisher:
The Wiregrass is a coming of age novel about an innocent young woman who is forced to come to grips with the evil stalking the beautiful place and people she loves. Having spent every summer of her life in the small Wiregrass town of Crystal Springs, Alabama, Nettie is hoping for a respite from the unrelenting physical and emotional changes that have made her first year of high school pure misery. But fate has other plans.
A chance encounter with Mitchell, a seductively handsome, yet secretive young man, turns Nettie’s summer and her heart upside down. As their romance blooms, Nettie becomes suspicious that Mitchell is harboring a dark and dangerous secret, one that will ultimately rock the heart of the sleepy little town and have Nettie and those she loves running for their lives.
Set in 1969, the story uses the uniqueness of the Southern Wiregrass region to support engaging and captivating characters as they take the reader on a roller coaster ride of lingering emotions, from laugh out loud funny to soul crushing sadness.
And as usual, my five point review:
- Let’s start with the obvious: the sense of place in this book is phenomenal. Though I am now living in the South, the Wiregrass region was still unfamiliar to me until Nettie explained that it was both a part of the country [southeastern Alabama, southern Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle] and a type of bristly, razor-sharp grass that gave the region its name. Though I’ve never really been to the true Deep South, Webber’s imagery made the area come alive like other Southern classics [To Kill a Mockingbird, for example]. The author truly transplanted me from my lounge chair [oh yeah–this is a great pool/beach read] to a place far, far away in geography, time, culture, and habits. Lovely.
- Another element of this book that made Webber, a first-time novelist, stand out to me was her use of language. Sometimes when novels that focus on children or adolescents, even when written for adults, dumb down the language. Not so with The Wiregrass! Every paragraph, sentence, and word was precise, smart, and interesting. Webber used sensory language to evoke that sense of place mentioned before, and her use of Southern dialogue was great. Nettie’s cousins weren’t just “cousins,” they were “cussins” [for more reasons than one]. Her “Ain’t Pitty” was the key adult shaping Nettie and the cousins’ summer–caring for them, loving them, instructing them, and guiding them through some very good and very bad times. There are countless other examples of language creating place and mood throughout the book. Truthfully for me, that sort of Southern language gets old after awhile… but it does set this book apart and helps show the author’s talent.
- There are so many great characters in this novel. I keep asking myself who I was most captivated and engaged by, and I keep coming back to Mitchell. Much of what we learn about him throughout the book comes from others–from Nettie, from Ain’t Pitty, from people around Crystal Springs. You’ll have to read it and see why he’s so captivating. His story is one of beauty and utter heartbreak. While the official “description” of the book casts his relationship with Nettie as a romance, I would have to [slightly] disagree. Yes, they are romantically involved… but you have to remember they’re kids! I didn’t see their romance play out as much more than intense friendship, so don’t go into this book expecting a romance novel because you won’t find it.
- Aside from the great writing and characters, I loved reading about all the childhood rituals that Nettie and her cousins shared. Some innocent… and some not-so-innocent [think TP-ing and other ways kids get into trouble during those hot summer days and nights]. Age-wise in the middle of the group, Nettie bridges the gap between the older and younger cousins in a fun way. You can see her grow up right before her eyes, even without the Mitchell storyline. I could see my childhood summers in these stories… a fun time to reminisce.
- Overall, The Wiregrass incorporates mystery and drama, the coming-of-age adolescence angst, explorations of childhood, and so much more. It touches on issues important to past, present, and future America such as class, race, etc. without making too much of a statement. The sadness/harsh reality/mystery element in all its intensity does not spoil the sweet childhood memories that Nettie and her cousins build, but it does change things. I won’t spoil the ending, but it IS truly poignant and a little surprising. I could hardly put the book down! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I won’t tell you to not read this book in the fall or winter or spring… but it’s truly a summer read so check it out now! 🙂
What are you reading lately?
Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this book from Webber’s publicist, Stephanie Barko. However, I was not required to write a positive review. The thoughts expressed above are entirely my own. Thanks for the chance to read this book!