I received this book from Netgalley for review consideration.
Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal
Published by Pamela Dorman Books, Penguin on July 3rd, 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary Women, Debut, Family Life, Fiction
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A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets.
When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.
For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.
For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.
By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.
The first line of the synopsis sold me on Laura Lane McNeal’s debut Dollbaby, “A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets.”
I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion that I have a weakness for novels set in the South. Well, add in the 1960’s and I will pretty much read the book without knowing much else about it. Dollbaby was one such novel, as soon as I knew the setting and time period, I knew I had to read it. Add in an old mansion with locked rooms and family secrets and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to put this book down!
In fact, with the exception of the first couple of chapters, I read Dollbaby in a single night! Reading later than I have done in a long time, just so that I could turn that last page.
As much as I love reading, there aren’t many books that get between me and my sleep and I don’t remember the last time that I even considered continuing to read late into the night. I usually get to 10:00 p.m. before I can feel my eyes getting heavier with each word, no matter who much I am liking the book. It was different with Dollbaby, I was so caught up in the story that there was no way I would be able to sleep without knowing how it all ended.
Ibby Bell grew up in Washington, her parents fleeing the South as soon as they married. Life in Washington couldn’t be further from life in Louisiana, and Ibby is thrown into the thick of it after her father suddenly dies and her mother leaves her on the doorstep of her grandmother’s New Orleans home.
Fannie has endured her fair share of tragedy in her lifetime, and her longtime help, mother-daughter pair Queenie and Dollbaby, have been there to pick up the pieces. They worry if the appearance of Ibby, and the circumstances surrounding it, will send Fannie into one of her episodes.
Fannie has tried to ignore all the bad things that have happened by keeping secrets behind locked doors. And when the doors start opening, Fannie and her family have to come to terms with everything they have tried to keep hidden away.
Laura Lane McNeal’s debut is as heart-warming as it is heart-wrenching. Both funny and poignant, uplifting and sad, Dollbaby takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster. I was left thinking about the characters for days, wondering how they felt after the unfolding of the events at the end, how they moved on, whether anything changed. And now I’m thinking about them all over again!