In 1960, fifteen-year-old Olivia Jean Stone finds herself pregnant after an ill-advised trip to the janitor’s closet with Preston Douglass. Rather than risk the truth coming out to their friends and neighbors in Brooklyn, Olivia Jean’s parents Daisy and Turk decide to send her to Alabama to live with her Grandma Birdie for the duration of her pregnancy. Once in Alabama, though, Birdie makes a surprising pronouncement: one of her parents must stay in Alabama with them. Daisy is the natural choice, and so three generations of women must learn to live together, bound only by the ties of familial obligation. As Olivia Jean’s pregnancy progresses, each of the women slowly begins to let go of long-held secrets and learn to let each other in. As this is happening, Olivia Jean begins to see Daisy in a new light, and in her turn, Daisy sees Birdie in a new light.
I can honestly say that I knew almost nothing about Going Down South, by Bonnie J. Glover, going in to reading it. For a book that isn’t all that big in the grand scheme of things, it packs quite a lot into its 243 pages. First, the imagery: Ms. Glover has a way of making the reader feel as though they are right at home in the pages of the novel. I could see myself sitting on a Brooklyn stoop with Olivia Jean and Daisy, waiting for Turk to come home. That in itself is impressive considering I’ve never to Brooklyn. That was one of the first things that struck me about this novel.
The other thing that really struck me about this novel is the emotion. Again, I felt like I was feeling the things the characters were feeling. I could feel Olivia Jean’s discomfort as she went from having a close relationship with her father and a competetive one with her mother, to having no relationship with her father, and learning to open up to her mother. And while there are powerful emotional moments, Ms. Glover doesn’t cheapen them by having the characters over-analyze them. I think it gives the book a strong sense of reality.
At it’s heart, this is a story about women finding empowerment, though the word empowerment is not used. In her own time, each learns that she cannot rely on the men in her life, and quietly finds strength in the other women in the family. At the end of the novel, all are better for the connections they’ve forged with each other over the course of Olivia Jean’s pregnancy.
This is the first novel by Ms. Glover that I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. I definitely look forward to reading more from her in the future.
Rating: 4 stars
Publisher, ISBN: One World Books, 9780345480910
Also reviewed by: Diary of an Eccentric