Wednesday, October 11, 2017

#BookReview: THE TWELVE-MILE STRAIGHT by Eleanor Henderson

Summary: Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.

Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.

Review: So 1930's Georgia is a lot to take in, right? Like slavery ended decades before, but it just rebranded itself as sharecropping and black bodies are still subject to the abuse of white people. Slavery by any other name is still slavery.

The Twelve-Mile Straight is a lengthy read at almost 600 pages, but not once did I ever want to give up on reading it because I was fascinated by the characters. Juke, the white overseer (for lack of a better word), is a poor man with little power, but the power that he does have he exerts over his daughter and others around him that he deems to be lower than him. He loathes blackness, yet he loves it. In this way, his daughter Elma is no better. Driven by jealousy, she easily denounces someone that's only been kind to her, resulting in his death. It's a rare moment that readers will see her remorseful for her actions.

The direct recipient of so much wrongdoing throughout the story is Nan, referred to as their housekeeper who's like a sister, but Nan is a prisoner of the Jesups. While Elma and Nan are both held captive by the lies Juke has forced upon them, Nan's mother and Elma have their own ways of keeping Nan captive. The actions of Nan's mother early on ensure Nan will never have a voice to speak for herself. And Elma's selfishness keeps Nan tethered to her with little regard for whether or not that's what Nan wants.

I spent so much of the book wanting both girls, then women, to get free, to find a piece of happiness. And it comes eventually, but it's a long time coming.

560 p.
Published: September 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

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