The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
1960’s South Carolina. Following the death of her mother, 14-year-old Lily is mostly raised by the servant Rosaleen. After Lily’s abusive father, T. Ray, batters Rosaleen for defending her right to vote, Lily and Rosaleen flee. They are led only by a note written on the back of one of Lily’s mother’s possessions. They find refuge with the “Calender sisters”, three bee-keeping sisters cloistered in a close-knit community where Lily finds happiness for the first time in years and can finally begin to confront the demons in her past.
We Are All Welcome Here, by Elizabeth Berg
1964, Tupelo, Mississippi. Polio-victim Paige Dunn and her 13-year-old daughter, Diana, work hard to stay under the radar. Social services barely cover the costs of the around-the-clock care that Paige requires, and Diana has taken the responsibilities for the night shift. Paige’s daytime caregiver, Peacie, is fiercely protective of Paige, and has no patience for Diana’s adolescent urges for freedom. But when LaRue, Peacie’s boyfriend, gets into trouble for helping to register black voters, the situation heats up…
Mudbound, by Hilary Jordan
1946. Life on a Mississippi Delta farm, aptly named Mudbound, is a struggle for Memphis-bred college educated Laura, who juggles the rearing of her two young children, her earth-loving husband, Henry, and the moving in of Henry’s deeply bigoted father. Things become slightly easier for her when she finds a friend in Florence, the hired help and wife of one of their tenants. When Henry’s brother, Jamie, and Florence’s son, Ronsel, return from the war in Europe, both changed men, and each with their own demons, the delicate balance Laura managed to attain is threatened.
Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
1791. Irish Lavinia arrives at Tall Oaks plantation in Virginia to work as an indentured servant. As an orphaned child, she works in the kitchen house under Belle, the owner’s illegitimate daughter, and comes to love the slaves as her own family, but struggles because she can never fully fit in. Over the course of two decades, we watch as the social order of the plantation changes with the deaths, marriages and events of history.
Queen of Palmyra, by Minrose Gwin
1963, Millwood, Mississippi. Florence is mostly ignored by her father, Win, an abusive insurance salesman and leader of the local Klan, and her hard drinking mother. Instead, she is constantly being shuttled between her grandparents and their black housekeeper, Zenie (short for Zenobia, ancient queen of Palmyra). Tension mounts in Millwood when Zenie’s pretty niece, Eva, arrives to sell insurance to raise money for college.
The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to his White Mother by James McBride
Ruthie Shilsky McBride Jordan had a rough childhood. She was born an Orthodox Jew born in Poland to an abusive father and a caring mother who’s crippled by polio. They moved to America and settled in rural Virginia, where Ruth was shunned by the white and black community alike because of her Jewish heritage and her father’s unfair business practices. At 19, she escaped, moved to New York, and fell in love with Rev. Andrew McBride at a time when mixed marriages were universally frowned upon. Through his influence, Ruth became a devout Baptist and found a place for faith in her life. She manages to raise her twelve children in hardscrabble lower income Brooklyn and Queens with a firm and loving hand, infusing in them the importance of education and faith. McBride alternates chapters between his mother’s life and his own childhood, and coming to terms with his mixed-race heritage.
Black Boy by Richard Wright
The autobiographical tale of Richard Wright’s difficult youth from rural Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. Abandoned by his father at a very young age, Richard is subsequently bounced from relative to relative, mother to grandmother, aunt to uncle, with a brief period in an orphanage. Though rarely in school, he manages to procure an education and devours classic literature. The book chronicles his attempts to better himself through various jobs and save enough money to go to the promised North.
If you want something a little different…
Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon
15-year-old Shivana believes black women all have one fate: get pregnant young by a man who won’t stick around. So when she becomes pregnant by the married father of the children she babysits, it’s hardly a surprise to her. As she explores her options and negotiates with her mother, she finds herself falling for the new boy in the building, Rasul. Shivana daydreams that a better future may be possible. Woven into the narrative is the spirit voice of Shivana’s unborn child, a soul who has been waiting to be born for a very long time.
Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was at the forefront of the 1930’s Harlem Renaissance movement and a specialist in African-American folklore. She mixed standard English with very colloquial dialogue, a move that earned her equal parts praise and criticism. Their Eyes Were Watching God follows Janie Crawford on her quest for fulfillment, a life-long journey that takes many relationships, friendship and romance alike, before she can get everything that she needs.
If you want something very different…
Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo
Nigerian-British Evaristo inverts expectations in Blonde Roots, re-imagining history if Aphrika were the dominating world power, and enslaving the peoples of Europa. Readers follow the story of Doris Scagglethorpe, daughter of a cabbage farmer, her capture and journey to slavery, and then her struggle towards freedom. Bonus: this is also the September book for Carol’s Tuesday afternoon book group. It will be discussed on Tuesday, September 21st at 1:30 PM.