Jessilyn Lassiter never knew that hatred could lurk in the human heart until the summer of 1932 when she turned 13. When her best friend, Gemma, loses her parents in a tragic fire, Jessilyn’s father vows to care for her as one of his own, despite the fact that Gemma is black and prejudice is prevalent in their southern Virginia town. Violence springs up as a ragtag band of Ku Klux Klan members unite and decide to take matters into their own hands. As tensions mount in the small community, loyalties are tested and Jessilyn is forced to say good-bye to the carefree days of her youth. Fireflies in December is the 2007 winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and a 2010 Christy Award winner.
I have read ‘Fireflies in December’ by Jennifer Erin Valent a couple of times now. Each time I find something different that I love about it. Each time I read it something new sticks out to me and really makes me re-examine my own impact on my community. A well written account of southern prejudice in the 1930’s and how the choices of one family impacted an entire community, for better and for worse. Jessilyn Lassiter is convinced she killed a man, accidentally. Her family had taken in a ‘colored’ girl after her family had died in a house fire. Never mind that the family who died lived and worked on Jessilyn’s family farm. Never mind that the two girls felt like sisters and spent the weekends, afternoons, and summers together. never mind a lot of things. The whites had a problem with the Lassiter family taking in Gemma because she wasn’t white. The black community had a problem with the Lassiter family taking in Gemma because they weren’t black. The family did what they believed was right. The family did what they believed was best for all concerned. And they took Gemma into their home and treated her like a daughter. Like they always had, only in their own home. Somehow that residence thing changed everything. Changed the family, changed the community. I read the Kindle edition and for the first time I can remember I added highlights to the story. Reminders of passages, thoughts, observations that I wanted to be able to return to again. In lieu of a typical me review I’m going to share a couple of them here.
‘That light is bright enough to light up a little speck of the night sky so a man can see it a ways away. That’s what God expects us to do. Were to be lights in the dark, cold days that are this world. Like fireflies in December?”
Jessilyn was talking with her Daddy about the troubles they were facing and had faced. The section goes on to talk about how one firefly doesn’t put out a lot of light but when you get several together they can create a light in the dark. A lot like people. One person can make some noise and try to make a change but it when more people join the change it makes a bigger impact. But change has to start somewhere, even with one lone firefly to brighten the darkness.
“Mr. Stokes, ain’t nothin’ bad ever changed to good without startin’ a little commotion’ she replied.
But God taught me a lesson about angels that day. They don’t always wear wings and carry harps.
We best be on our guard and keep our minds on what’s right and true so we don’t become things we’ll regret.
Good did come, slowly. But not completely. Friendships were lost. Respect was lost and gained. Love was lost and gained. But self respect always grows when you do the right thing. Even when it’s hard. Even when it feels like everyone is against you, from both sides. I highly recommend this book to anyone. Though the spoken slang is difficult at times it flows well so it doesn’t annoy me as much as it typically does. This book is very well written but also written simply enough that a middle age reader would do well with it.
Jennifer Erin Valent created something that has the potential to speak to anyone. No matter your faith, no matter your feeling on race, there is something here for everyone to take away from it. If only you take the time to look at yourself in the process.
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About Jennifer Erin Valent
Jennifer Erin Valent is the 2007 winner of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest and 2010 Christy Award winner for Fireflies in December. She lives in central Virginia, where she has worked as a nanny for over fifteen years. A lifelong resident of the South, her surroundings help to color the scenes and characters she writes.
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