Clarksville, TN – “Ms. Grace, you ask hard questions.”
The little girl living on a farm in rural Sumner County, Tennessee does ask hard questions. Innocent and inquisitive, Grace lives in a world where the Civil War has just ended and the devastated South is entering Reconstruction. Grace directly questions why she is surrounded by death and suffering.
Her grandmother tells Grace, “I want you to not think of the evil in this world, honey, because there is plenty of that. You don’t have to look too hard or far for that. Look for the good. Be the good.”
Is the illiterate grandmother helping young Grace cope with the evil or advising Grace to be willfully ignorant of it? Either way, Grace continues to ask questions and gets answers from an array of interesting characters from the rural community. This allows the author to explore different viewpoints of slavery, poverty, death, and redemption. Unfortunately for Grace, she leartns answers lead to more questions as she searches for the truth and understanding.
The book has many twists and turns, therefore, this review purposefully avoids specific details so the reader can enjoy the plot and character development as intended by the author. However, Grace lives with her grandparents while her father is off at war.
With her little sister dead and mother missing, the family struggles to make sense of the world. Grace visits Nashville, only to see former slaves still working like slaves. Her father returns from war a different man, only to leave again to fight another, more personal battle. She learns that her mother also suffered from the cruel consequences of war. As her family and world changes, she struggles to find her place…always speaking plainly and asking direct questions.
I enjoyed how the author uses the slower pace of the times to punctuate their hardship. For example, the father cannot read or write, so the family does not receive any letters from him. They are left with their imagination as to what he is experiencing at war. One’s own imagination can be scary or comforting.
When they do get a letter, they must journey to find the preacher, further delaying the family’s receipt of information. The author transforms the ‘waiting’ into its own character, amplifying the family’s struggle while allowing the reader to contemplate how times have changed in regards to the speed of information. Both instant information and the lack of information can bring anxiety.
Although the dates have changed, the human struggle remains the same. Dealing with the aftermath of war is not exclusive to the children of the Reconstruction period and should make this story appealing to the local community dealing with loss and absence of our soldiers.
Grace may never understand “why fathers go to war” but she decides “to make things right in the end. That is all any of us can do.” Grace’s conclusion is clearly the author’s suggestion to the reader. Grace’s boldness is not common place for the times, and hints of the attitude that started the Suffrage Movement.
Certainly, the reader could draw comparisons with Grace and femimnism. The warning given to Grace “that the truth doesn’t always need to be spoken so directly” seems more like the author encouraging Grace to boldly speak truth to power. The author seems hopeful that Grace, and the reader, can learn to be mindful of the world but not content with it, and change it with good works.
Beverly Fisher, a local attorney, skillfully constructs Grace’s questions to sbe relevant tio the human struggle no matter the time period, making it a timeless piece of historical fiction. Published locally by Thorncraft Publishing, this is a must read for any history buff or anyone coping with the consequences of war.
Note: The term “Leavings” is a southern term, defined as “things that have been left as worthless.” When I asked the author about the term, she used it as in leftovers after a meal, “I’ll take the leavings.” I like the way she looks at things…..I’ll take the leavings as well.