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A special thank you to Kensington and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Beautiful covers (both book and audio)
Kim Michele Richardson returns following her Southern debut of Liar’s Bench (2015) with GODPRETTY IN THE TOBACCO FIELD, another Southern charmer; a coming-of-age tale of one girl’s strong determination beyond the small town of Nameless, filled with dark secrets poverty, tobacco, injustice and hardship--replaced with hope, family, and dreams for a better life if you believe.
Richardson visited the backwoods and rural areas of Western Kentucky in Liar’s Bench. In GodPretty she explores Appalachia-- its darkly coal rich mountains and the hardscrabble people of Eastern Kentucky
From the ugly tobacco fields Gunnar controls RubyLyn, with punishment. Anything to do with Gunnar and God, would mean punishment. However, RubyLyn is innocent, tender, and has a heart of gold. From ugly to beautiful. A story of poverty, oppression of Appalachian women in the sixties—the consequences, fears, and their limited futures.
Beautifully written, a Southern backdrop, infused with art, history, and music--from racial strife and the limitations of the South—especially for women--a look through the innocent eyes of a beautiful young girl.
At fifteen, RubyLyn lives with her uncle Gunnar Royal, almost sixty years old, in 1969 in the South in Namleess, Kentucky. She works the tobacco field every day and continues to receive abuse, both emotional and physical by her uncle. He took her in ten years ago, and he had made it his mission and sole purpose to chase out her parents’ devils.
Her daddy, the sin chaser and snake-handling pastor of Nameless, Kentucky’s Mountain Tent Tabernacle, died when she was four, and six months later her Mama passed as well. RubyLyn wonders why there is so much ugly. She misses her mama. She needs a strong woman in her life. Gunnar believes she must be pretty in the eyes of God and takes his punishments to the extreme.
At age, forty-four Rose is her salvation. Rose drives a truck and brings back items from Woolworths, to sell to the locals. She takes special care of RubyLyn as she knows she has no other female influences. From books, sketch pads, to frilly feminine treasures. She encourages her and her talents. She creates art out of ordinary tobacco paper.
RubyLyn liked the word—"folk artists". Rose says artists need good paper, and new places to visit to be inspired. She loves to draw and create beautiful things on her fortune telling triangles. Making her feel alive and closer to her Mama. Her ticket out of this town and life.
Henny Stump, her best friend, is so poor that her family resorts to selling their new baby. Her other neighbors, Beau Crockett and his three boys, are trouble.
Rainey Ford is a black field worker, and he always looks out for her. Over the past ten years she saw he had turned into a fine young man but a softness that made her heart sing. Gunnar did not care for Rainey’s lip, any more than RubyLyn’s sass--things he called sins. Will her uncle's heart ever soften?
The time is approaching for the date of the 1969 Kentucky State Fair the following month. She needs the prize money in order to get her a new life in Louisville. She would be sixteen in September and she knew if Rose made it there at thirteen…. she had a shot.
She kept her small hinged box. Her daddy’s stuff was long gone, replaced with memories; a tiny next of rescued threads from Mama’s clothes, along with the dried tobacco leaves and looms that Rainey had given her with his promise. They first met when he was eight and she was five—growing up together. Back then he had asked her to marry him sealed with a kiss.
Rainey is going off to Vietnam but they are in love and want to run away together, but of course, this would not be allowed. Of course, they know all too well, they will never be able to be together in this town. Black guys did not mix with white women. She knows if they can get away they could have a life together. She has read about places where they would be acceptable. They both know by staying in this town was as good as being dead.
Then there was Baby Jane she had to protect. RubyLyn knew when she left, she was never returning to the tobacco field, and unfairness of life, and her mean Uncle. From heavy hearts to a life RubyLyn may not every have. She has to believe in more than magic.
Kim Richardson has a warm genuine way of drawing you into the Southern world, with vivid settings and insights of a young girl. Her passion for her Kentucky roots is reflected through her writing and research of the areas.
Beyond the poverty and the hot dry tobacco field, and unfairness of life there is beauty. From dark secrets of the past, forbidden love, and of dreams. Readers will fall in love with RubyLyn!
I enjoyed the author’s notes and the phrase she created: "GodPretty, to show starkness in the brutal and beautiful land and its people and mysteries. To Gunnar, the term applied to females, pushing his strict moral codes on RubyLyn. He wanted his niece to be pretty in the eyes of God so he could protect her when he was not around—her soul would shine. Ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions.
Rich in history, character, magic, and especially land, which is an important theme of the book. Filled with music, and the sweet memories and excitement of youth and summers at the State Fair.
How poverty affects learning, habits, choices, and self-worth. As with the soil and land, our souls need nourishment and cultivating. The agricultural community is strong in the Bluegrass State–Kentucky,and still leads the nation in burley tobacco production, with more miles of running water than any other state except Alaska.
For Southern fans of Julie Kibler’s- Calling Me Home, Diane Chamberlain's- Necessary Lies, Mary Marcus'-Lavina, and Laura Lane McNeal's-Dollbaby.
If you have not read Richardson’s“Liar’s Bench”, highly recommend.