Author: Laura Lane McNeal
Provided Synopsis: 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.
Review: Unfortunately, this book never reached the pinnacle of its potential! When Ibby’s father dies, her mother drops her off at the New Orleans home of the grandmother Ibby never even knew she had. Within the old house is the grandmother, named Fannie, the cook, named Queenie, and Queenie’s daughter and fellow domestic help, nicknamed Dollbaby. As the book follows Ibby’s journey from childhood to young womanhood all of these women play a role in her life and their eventual secrets are revealed.
First of all, the greatest amount of lost potential with this book is the lack of depth for character exploration. Many of these characters have very detailed pasts that are merely skimmed over. I wanted to know why Ibby’s mother held so much animosity towards Fannie. I wanted to know more about how Fannie’s tragic past shaped her into the woman she became — she was a lady well known in the New Orleans community and very philanthropic. I wanted to know more about Queenie and Dollbaby. I even wanted to know more about Ibby, since the book would skip ahead four years to a different era of her life without any exploration into how Ibby had changed beneath the surface. As for the secrets these characters had: they were not enough. Most of them were very easy to discern and all of them did not pack the punch the author probably intended because the characters were not explored enough so the reader could resonate.
Furthermore, the time period of New Orleans beginning in 1964 was not delved into. Why bother to have chapters where Doll participates in a sit-in, or where President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if you are not going to bother to mention much of the racial climate of the area? One character calls others derogatory names, but that is the extent of it and presented an opportunity missed. There was more to the story here, and as I reader I could feel it and am disappointed that I was not given it.
In conclusion, my favorite part of this story was the setting of New Orleans. The descriptions of the city really could jump off the pages to entice me to want to take a trip there as soon as possible.