Category Archives: Coastal Plain

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Lucia Peel Powe. Roanoke Rock Muddle. Raleigh, NC: Ivy House, 2003.

roanokeMany novelists have tried to capture the essence of a small town that they know well.  Lucia Peel Powe has set out to do this for Williamston, North Carolina, a small, but old, town at a strategic bend in the Roanoke River. In a story set in the 1920s and 1930s, Mrs. Powe gives readers a good sense of the life of the town through the stories of Ben-Olive Bazemore, the chef at the Tar Heel Hotel, Charlie Mac Griffin, who is the mayor (a decidedly part-time job) and whose father owns the Chevrolet dealership, and Big Dan Hardison and his wife Mary.

The men’s lives are particularly well portrayed in scenes of card games on a houseboat, barbecues, and political rallies, but the plot revolves around Mary.  Mary, the daughter of the town’s only doctor, is a reader and a bit of a dreamer.  Her husband, Big Dan, is a former college football star with political ambitions.  The other men like Dan even as they entertain fantasies about his wife.  But if Mary is dissatisfied with Dan, why would any of his friends be better?  A man from outside would hold more interest, with fewer complications.  Mary’s actions ripple through the community, but quietly, and just as quietly Dan and his circle of friends adjust.

Roanoke Rock Muddle will give readers a good sense of the Williamston community and the importance of the river in its life and culture.  As a bonus, the author includes fifteen recipes credited to Ben-Olive.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Coastal Plain, Martin, Powe, Lucia Peel

Margaret Maron. Designated Daughters. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2014.

daughtersReaders of Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series are used to Deborah’s large family, and Maron kindly helps readers to keep them straight by providing a family tree in recent books.  In Designated Daughters, Deborah’s Aunt Rachel briefly takes center stage.

Aunt Rachel has always been an easy going, neighborly person who made friends with many of the people who came to her vegetable stand.  Although never a gossip, Aunt Rachel has been privy to a lot of secrets.  Nearing death, she begins to unburden herself of some of those stories–not in a way her family understands but clearly enough to unnerve at least one listener.  When the family steps away from her room, someone smothers this sweet woman.

The family is both horrified and puzzled.  Even though Deborah has promised Dwight that she will not interfere in the homicide investigation, this is her family.  Deborah begins to match up some of her aunt’s ramblings with the stories of neighbors and kin.  A church man who hit his wife, a house fire that killed a mother and her young daughters, a cowbird egg, a revealing bathing suit–which one of these references would incite someone to murder a woman already in hospice care?  Through Deborah’s investigations, readers learn more about the Knotts family history while Deborah identifies the killer.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Coastal Plain, Maron, Margaret, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

N.P. Simpson. B.O.Q. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 2014.

boqFran Setliff left behind an unhappy marriage and a dead-end police job in a small Alabama town to become a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agent.  Now she is the newbie on the NCIS force attached to Camp Lejeune.  She thinks that she is fitting in, but as a civilian she still is getting used to the layers of command, traditions, and taboos of this large Marine base.  Being a woman doesn’t help.

When Fran becomes part of the team investigating the death of Ann Buckhalter she is immersed in the base and all the human dramas that play out there. Buckhalter had been a reporter at the Fayetteville paper when her husband was on active duty.  All her stories about the base had been positive, cheerful even, but the base commander and his staff were suspicious of her.  After her husband retired, the family moved to Raleigh, but Buckhalter and her teenage daughter regularly–but separately–came back to Camp Lejuene.  On one such visit Ann Buckhalter dies.  Is her death an accident, or is it murder?  Is her death connected to the sexual assault charges that her daughter made against an enlisted man, or the rumored lawsuit against base commander?  Or does it have something to do with a psychiatrist’s study of military families, or drug usage on and around the base?  Simpson’s complex story and well-developed main character will hold the reader’s attention.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Coastal Plain, Cumberland, Mystery, Simpson, N. P.

Lights, Camera, Novel: Rene Gutteridge and John Ward’s Heart of the Country.

Heart of the Country labels itself as “A modern re-telling of The Prodigal story, in the form of Wall Street meets Sweet Home Alabama meets Nicholas Sparks.” Half of the references in that description speak to notions of down-home, good old-fashioned Southern families and romance. Sweet Home Alabama was a popular romantic comedy about a displaced Southerner who returns from New York City and her successful, sophisticated lifestyle, and winds up reconnecting with her roots. Nicholas Sparks, who has been blogged about on here in the past, is a notable North Carolina resident and something of an icon who has shaped popular romantic writing, and with it, the image of the state.

After Faith Carraday’s husband, Luke, is caught taking part in some shady business dealings, he is arrested. Faith abandons Luke and their life together in Manhattan and seeks solace with her father and sister in her hometown in Columbus County, North Carolina. Unfortunately, her reception is strained. Faith bolted from home when she was given the opportunity to attend Julliard. Since then she hasn’t remained close with her father, Calvin, and sister, Olivia. Olivia is jealous of sharing their father’s affections, and, Calvin has grown old and tired. As Faith tries to heal and sort out her life, Luke approaches his high society family and attempts to make amends.

The story was co-authored by novelist Rene Gutteridge and screenwriter/director/actor John Ward. As if taking a cue from Nicholas Sparks and his writing method in The Last Song, Heart of the Country was written in novel form and screenplay, fairly close together; Gutteridge indicates working with Ward’s material in her acknowledgement. Gutteridge took a larger role in the novel and Ward in the screenplay. Both the film and the novel were released in 2013. The film version was shot on location in Wilmington, North Carolina and New York City. Jana Kramer stars as Faith Carraday and Gerald McRaney, an actor primarily known for his work on TV shows, plays her father Calvin. Funnily enough, McRaney has an unlisted role in Nicholas Sparks’s upcoming adaptation, The Best of Me. Kramer played a supporting role in One Tree Hill – also set in North Carolina and filmed in Wilmington — in seasons 7 and 8 and the first two episodes in season 9. She left the show to pursue her country music career. During this film, Kramer gets a chance to flaunt her musical talents on screen with a few songs.

It’s not a surprising coincidence that One Tree Hill and Heart of the Country were filmed in Wilmington, however. Over the years, Wilmington has earned the nickname of “Hollywood of the East,” “Hollywood East,” and even “Wilmywood.” Our State attributes Wilmington’s major break in the film industry in the early 1980s to Dino DiLaurentiis’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter, which starred a young Drew Barrymore. DiLaurentiis was interested in finding a plantation for filming, and after a location scout shared a photo of Orton Plantation, DiLaurentiis was smitten. So smitten, in fact, that he built a studio in Wilmington.

Since Firestarter, Wilmington has been the backdrop to films like Blue Velvet, Weekend at Bernie’s, Sleeping with the Enemy, a handful of Nicholas Sparks adaptations, The Secret Life of Bees, and more. Wilmington Regional Film Commission has lists for Feature Films, TV Shows, Music Videos, and Commercials shot in the area. The North Carolina Film Office likewise has a listing of films and TV shows shot in the state. Of these films and TV shows listed, it might be interesting to consider how many were really set in North Carolina, or crafted to look like another location? Heart of the Country sticks close to home. Although the story is set in Columbus County and Wilmington is actually located in New Hanover County, the two counties neighbor each other on the southern tip of the state, so shooting in Wilmington wasn’t much of a departure from the storyline.

Read the original post that covers the novel version of Heart of the Country here. Both the novel and the film are available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

Sources consulted: Bayridge Films, CMIL, Examiner, Facebook, Heart of the Country, IMDb (The Best of Me, Heart of the Country, Jana Kramer, Gerald McRaney, Sweet Home Alabama), Jana Kramer, NC Hollywood, North Carolina Film Office, Our State, Rene Gutteridge, Taste of Country, Wikipedia (Jana Kramer, Gerald McRaney, One Tree Hill), The Wilmywood Daily, Wilmington Regional Film Commission, Inc.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Coastal Plain, Columbus, Gutteridge, Rene, New Hanover, Religious/Inspirational, Ward, John

Sheila Turnage. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing. New York: Kathy Dawson Books, 2014.

The Ghosts of Tupelo LandingA laugh floated down the stairway, secret and low. My heart jumped. So did Dale. “Steady, Dale,” I said, my voice shaking. “Don’t leap to conclusions. A good detective starts with the obvious and works toward the strange.”

Sixth grade is about to start, and scrappy orphan Mo LoBeau is convinced that the Desperado Detective Agency needs a new case to crack. Since the Agency (comprised of Mo, her friend, Dale Earnhart Johnson III, and his dog, Queen Elizabeth) successfully solved a murder, they’ve only been hired on for two lost pet cases. Mo wants something ground-breaking to rev up business and make a name for Dale and herself as sixth grade sleuths. Luckily, she doesn’t have to wait for long–a new case is right about to fall into her lap.

The novel opens the day of the auction of The Old Tupelo Inn, which creates big buzz around the small town of Tupelo Landing (population now 147, following the past summer’s murder). Just about everyone in the town is at the auction, including Mo, Dale and one of Mo’s caretakers, Miss Lana, the owner of the local diner and Old Hollywood aficionado. Miss Lana has her heart set on an umbrella stand, but after an unfriendly woman from out of town (dubbed “Rat Face,” by Mo) makes a move to buy the Inn, Miss Lana hastily outbids her and by accident becomes the new owner of The Old Tupelo Inn along with the partial contents of the property and some very serious fine print.

According to the fine print, the inn is haunted by a ghost. Mo, and Dale after plenty of coaxing, set out to identify the ghost. Their mission couldn’t have come at a better time. A few days later, Miss Retzyl, their new teacher, tells the class that as part of the 250th anniversary of Tupelo Landing, she wants each student to interview a town elder. Mo’s arch-enemy Anna Celeste Simpson (aka Attila) somewhat unfairly claims Mo’s adoptive grandmother and the richest and nicest old person in town, Miss Lacy Thornton.

But Mo is ready to one-up Attila. She names the unidentified ghost of The Old Tupelo Inn as her interview subject. To Mo, “there ain’t nobody older than dead.” If she and Dale can determine the ghost’s identity, then they’re sure to have the best report and earn themselves a little extra credit in the process. Finding a ghost and convincing it to reveal who it is and why it’s haunting the inn isn’t an open-and-shut case however. Meanwhile, the presence of a new boy called Harm Crenshaw in Mo’s class irks Mo almost as much as living in Tupelo Landing irks Harm. He informs everyone he meets that he is only temporarily staying in Tupelo Landing until his brother Flick (a confirmed, good-for-nothing punk) can collect him to return to Greensboro. And Miss Lacy signs on to bankroll Miss Lana’s staggering bid for the ramshackle Old Tupelo Inn, yet it surfaces that Miss Lacy might not be as rich as everyone believes her to be. Could Miss Lana and Miss Lacy’s ownership of the inn be in jeopardy?

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing is novelist Shelia Turnage’s second Mo LoBeau mystery. Turnage creates a magical setting in the fictional Tupelo Landing — it’s a wacky, charming small town. Outrageously spunky and spirited Mo has a lively voice and her narration makes the pages turn quickly. Don’t let the young adult packaging stop you from picking up Turnage’s follow-up to Three Times Lucky. With Mo as your guide, Tupelo Landing is quite an entertaining place to pass some time. Click here to read a blog post on the first novel in the series, Three Times Lucky.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Children & Young Adults, Coastal Plain, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Turnage, Sheila

Shelia P. Moses. The Sittin’ Up. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

The Sittin' UpStanbury “Bean” Jones Jr. is excited to take part in his first “sittin’ up.” Now that he’s twelve, his parents agree that he’s old enough to be a part of the custom. A “sittin’ up” is equivalent to a wake. Novelist Shelia P. Moses explains in an author’s note that this tradition occurred in the town of Rich Square, North Carolina because after embalming, the undertaker would not keep the bodies of deceased black townspeople, so they were taken home the night before the funeral. The ritual of bringing the body home was phased out over time, however, the ritual of gathering of family and friends to honor the deceased remained.  A “sittin’ up,” according to Moses, is held for the sake of living, to comfort those left behind and suffering from the loss of loved ones.

The year is 1940, and the people of Low Meadows are still struggling with the economic fallout of the Great Depression. The novel opens with Bro. Wiley on his death bed. At the ripe old age of about 100, Bro. Wiley is at peace that his death is drawing near. He is ready to join his forebears in the so-called “Slave Grave.” That sentiment is not shared with the rest of the community. News of Bro. Wiley’s passing weighs heavy with grief and sadness.

Although Bean is interested in the prospect of participating in his first “sittin’ up,” he feels regret that Bro. Wiley had to die. The novel focuses upon the process of preparing for Bro. Wiley’s sittin’ up. What should normally be a routine custom though goes awry with an impending storm that threatens to disrupt arrangements for the sittin’ up. No matter the forecast, Bro Wiley’s sittin’ up ends up being a transformative experience for Bean and the rest of Low Meadows.

Moses’ story is driven by characters, their culture, and a strong sense of place. She covers plenty of ground in 226 pages. The Sittin’ Up addresses a number of small-scale community dynamics from the local outcasts like the town drunk, Real Kill, and Florenza, a flirty bootlegger who is busy making sweet eyes at Reverend Hornbuckle, to tensions between Bean’s father Stanbury and his lazy, lying brother-in-law, Uncle Goat. The novel touches upon historical elements like the enduring effects of the Great Depression and the economic and social environment of sharecropping. Moses also creates additional tension with the town school teacher, Mr. Creecy, who refuses to excuse his students, and Mr. Thomas Wiley, the landowner who wants the children to stay home and harvest crops. Racial tensions between whites and blacks are featured.

Moses balances death and tragedy with life and new beginnings, and she explores the close bond between Bean and his friend Martha Rose “Pole” Cofield, and Bean’s maturation as a young adult. Moses includes an author note at the conclusion of the book, referenced at the beginning of this post. Read it first (there aren’t any spoilers) because it gives great context to the novel and it shows Moses’ personal experience as a native of Rich Square, North Carolina. In 2008, UNC-TV featured Moses on a half-hour Bookwatch segment. Read past blog posts on Moses’ work here.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Children & Young Adults, Coastal Plain, Historical, Moses, Shelia P., Northampton

Monique Miller. Redemption Lake. New York: Kensington Books, 2012.

Redemption LakeAnd it was all relative when she thought about it; a person’s perception was truly their reality.

Marriage is a two-way street, and it takes plenty of effort and patience to resolve disputes and stave off conflict. Problems can erupt from a single source and branch off to create additional complications. Often, it’s tough to definitively pinpoint who is right and who is wrong. Redemption Lake covers three couples struggling to support their marriages. The spouses here have been pushed so far they can barely manage to talk to each other without contempt or anger, let alone hear what the other person is saying.

Readers of Miller’s work will recognize Phillip and Shelby Tomlinson, characters from her first novel, Secret Sisterhood. In Secret Sisterhood, Shelby and Phillip confronted their marital difficulties. After attending a marriage counseling retreat and helping with the couples’ ministry, Phillip has been tasked with leading a week-long retreat at a mountain resort for three couples, and Shelby has come along to help. Phillip is worried that he isn’t skilled enough to facilitate effective communication between the couples and guide them through their problems to a successful resolution. Based on the general profiles of each couple, this isn’t going to be an easy week for anyone.

Charlotte Knight has been collecting proof of her husband Xavier’s infidelities meticulously. She knows, in secret, that Xavier visits a number of diverse sources to stray, from the Internet to a neighbor down the street. The news of her positive STD test was the final piece of evidence that pushed her over the edge. Beryl Highgate is fed up with her lazy husband Travis. He promises to find a job and pull his weight, but he never delivers. She’s exhausted from taking care of their children, their finances, and him. Something has to change. Beryl can’t take his excuses any longer. Pastor George Jones was surprised and embarrassed to learn of his wife Nina’s hidden gambling problem. Recently, he’s found out that her addiction has affected not only their finances, but also those of his church in Greenville, North Carolina. He has to find a remedy before her gambling destroys both of their lives.

Phillip knows that there are always three sides to any story: “his side, her side, and the truth.” Novelist Monique Miller structured Redemption Lake so that readers will see the stories of the three couples from all angles. The novel is organized with brief prologue documenting the surface grievances of each couple. The remainder is largely broken up in chapters that rotate between the three husbands and Phillip, followed by the three wives and Shelby. Miller concludes with “the truth” as seen through Phillip’s eyes, observing the end of the retreat and the final outcomes among the couples. Miller doesn’t gloss over her characters and write a neat, happy ending for every couple. She sticks closer to the side of realism, where sometimes things work out but sometimes things are too far gone to fix.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under Coastal Plain, Miller, Monique, Mountains, Pitt, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Ernest Beasley. Cape Fear Murders. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2011.

capefearThe body count gets high in this novel of adultery, revenge, and abuse of power set in Lee County, North Carolina.  First one high school girl is raped and murdered, then another, and another, and another. When the father of the fourth victim becomes impatient with the pace of the investigation, he contacts retired United States Marshall, Kenneth Sadler.  Sadler, a widower, is happy for the work and grateful for an excuse to temporarily relocate away from the many widows in nearby Moore County who view him as a desirable catch.

Sadler does not get off on the right foot with Lee County Sheriff Joe Dorman.  While it’s natural that the local authorities do not welcome a private investigator from the outside, Sadler learns that Sheriff Dorman may have particular reasons for trying to keep a tight rein on this case.  Other discoveries raise questions about the behaviors and intentions of both high school students and the adults in their lives.  Whose behavior is more foolish? More dangerous?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Beasley, Ernest, Coastal Plain, Lee, Moore, Mystery, New Hanover

Rene Gutteridge and John Ward. Heart of the Country. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013.

heartCatherine Barnett’s death in an automobile accident scarred her entire family.  Calvin, her husband, was left with the task of bringing his daughters out of adolescence and into adulthood.  That, and keeping up the farm and his horses, consumed him.  Olivia stayed close to home, marrying and raising her children near the home place in Columbus County, North Carolina.  Faith, who has her mother’s beautiful voice and stage presence, left to attend the Julliard School in New York City.  Faith’s lack of confidence and drive derailed her singing career, but in New York she met Luke Carraday, the younger son of financial wizard Austin Carraday.

When Heart of the Country opens, Faith and Luke have been married four years.  The young couple have tried to find their own way in New York, living in a modest Manhattan apartment rather than on the Upper East Side, and keeping their appearances at big society events to minimum.  None of this pleases Luke’s family, but only when Luke leaves the family firm to buy in with a competitor, the slightly shady Michov Brothers, does the Carraday family unity crack.  Luke’s brother, Jake, is particularly harsh in his judgments–first Luke marries this country girl who must be a gold-digger and then he turn his back on the firm that their father poured his life into.  It’s all Jake can do not to say “I told you so” when the Securities and Exchange Commission comes after Luke and the Michovs, and Faith turns her back on Luke and returns to North Carolina.

Faith’s return to North Carolina is no joyous homecoming.  Olivia, who is feeling worn out at thirty, resents the attention that Faith receives and she is possessive about their father.  Plus, she is offended by Faith’s failure to bring Luke to North Carolina to meet the family.  The Barnetts wouldn’t know Luke if they walked right into him.  Calvin is just feeling old, too old to care much about the house, the barn, even his beloved horse, Silver.  Lee, the local ER doctor, offers his friendship to Faith, but his special knowledge of her mother’s death stands between them like a radioactive field.

Faith has come back to re-build her life, but she cannot do that without facing up to some truths about herself.  Is she weak–someone who gives up after the first setback?  The way she bolted when Luke was arrested marks her as someone who runs at the first sign of trouble.  But what about Luke, will he survive his  legal troubles, and if he does, will he find a way to win back Faith’s trust?  Heart of the Country explores the pain that exists in even the closest of families and how religious faith and family love can bring about healing.

The film version of Heart of the Country, starring Jana Kramer, was released in 2012.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coastal Plain, Columbus, Gutteridge, Rene, Religious/Inspirational, Ward, John

Shelley Pearsall. Jump into the Sky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Jump into the SkyChange is nothing new to thirteen-year- old Levi Battle. He is well acquainted with getting passed around and traded off among relatives. His mother, Queen Bee Walker, a beautiful but demanding jazz singer, abandoned Levi as an infant in an old Ford in the parking lot of a jazz club because she was dissatisfied with her unglamorous lifestyle and the weight of her maternal obligations. His father, Charles Battle, left Levi behind to serve as an army lieutenant in World War II. By contrast to his family, Levi views himself as a person who sticks around, even though his relatives are constantly shifting.

In his father’s absence, Levi lived first in the custody of his grandmother. Upon her death, he was transferred to the care of his Aunt Odella. The novel begins in the spring of 1945. After three years of housing her nephew, Aunt Odella has decided that since the war is almost over, the time has arrived for Levi to depart Chicago and reconnect with his father who is stationed in Fayetteville. Truth be told, she is tired of her charge and wants a reprieve from her responsibility. For three years she has slept on a cot in her living room to make space for Levi in her cramped apartment. With the end of the war in sight, Aunt Odella sees the opportunity for her personal liberation too.

So Aunt Odella packs Levi onto a train from Illinois to North Carolina with a suitcase and a bag of fried chicken. Levi is panic-stricken. He fears that he will arrive at his father’s army post unwanted. As the train travels further South, Levi faces another unexpected trouble as well–racism. Before relocating, Levi was unaware of the full extent of regional differences toward race. He is unaccustomed to the open hostility that he meets in the South. On his route and upon his arrival to North Carolina, he makes a couple of honest faux pas that do not jibe with the laws of Jim Crow. In one hard lesson, a shopkeeper threatens Levi’s life when he asks for a Coca-Cola. Following that encounter, Levi understands Southern racial etiquette with greater clarity.

With a little bit of luck, Levi manages to arrive unharmed in Fayetteville only to discover that his father’s unit has moved out to a new, undisclosed location. Yet again, he has been deserted, albeit unintentionally. The people in Levi’s life do not appear to discard him totally out of malevolence. Outside factors seem to nudge between Levi and his family and snip the ties. During his time in North Carolina, Levi encounters an old sweetgrass basket weaver named MawMaw Sands who teaches him that at the center of every basket is “a knot of pain” that anchors its foundation. In MawMaw Sands’ opinion, pain and sweetness are interwoven in life. Levi’s life appears knotted with an especially large amount of pain. His challenge is to clutch at the sweetness he can find and braid it in, no matter the struggle.

Novelist Shelley Pearsall sends Levi on a journey to unexpected locations across the country in pursuit of his father. Family, is not so easily found or established, and, as Pearsall reveals, these bonds must sometimes be learned anew. This book is intended for children and young adults, however, Pearsall’s memorable characters and witty narrator could hook readers of any age. Additionally, the portrayal of racism from Levi’s adolescent and unfamiliar perspective is poignant in its genuine and innocent surprise.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2012, Children & Young Adults, Coastal Plain, Cumberland, Moore, Pearsall, Shelley, Piedmont