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The Summer of Grace
Karen Jones
Jones (Death for Beginners) shines in this first-rate multigenerational novel charting a young girl’s coming of age in the Jim Crow South. It’s 1951, and Gracie is at the whim of her emotional, spiteful mother in Tidewater, Virginia. When her father, Robert, gives her a welcome escape to his family farm—where his mother and grandmother are raising Jane, Robert’s late sister’s daughter—Gracie is unsure at first whether the move will help or hurt her. But soon she and Jane are inseparable, much to the chagrin of Gracie’s mother when she visits, who refers to Jane as a “piece of trash.” Keeping company with the girls is Marcell, a traumatized Black woman with a drinking problem—and a painful past.

A talented storyteller, and a master at creating memorable characters, Jones transports readers to a deep South farm ruled by a fierce matriarch, a grandmother trying to keep the peace, and two young girls who want more than anything to wipe the sadness from Marcell’s eyes. As the summer passes, Gracie and Jane learn Marcell’s secret and hatch a plan to help her heal, in the process awakening Gracie to the realities of racism in the ‘50s. As she comes to recognize the casual contempt whites express for Blacks, and the barely veiled cruelty saturating “civilized” society, Gracie stumbles onto shocking family secrets that threaten to rip apart her relationships—and force a racial reckoning.

Jones crafts a skillful transformation for Gracie, who, in due time, must decide what family really means—and accept the consequences that come with that decision. Well-crafted prose captures the spirit of a segregated South (“every time I found out a secret, the world seemed meaner”), evoking the sometimes-painful transformations that accompany childhood. Ultimately, Gracie’s metamorphosis illustrates the distress (and the freedom) that comes with learning the truth—a subtle lesson that Jones delivers with grace.

Takeaway: A well-crafted coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the segregated South.

Comparable Titles: Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A