I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by NetGalley. I was not compensated for this review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. I was not required to write a positive review.Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse
Published by Baker Books on January 2nd 2018
Genres: Christian, Coming of Age, Fiction, General, Small Town & Rural
There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse's stunning debut, Missing Isaac.
It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople's reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it's all over, Pete--and the people he loves most--will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.
This book spoke to me on some level. When I saw it come up for review I was a minute or 1440 minutes too late to nab it. NetGalley to the rescue! As a debut novel Valerie Fraser Luesse hit it out of the park. That being said I’m sitting here looking at a mostly blank screen and struggling to rate and even review the book. The synopsis sold me on a story about a young southern boy in the 1960’s who would stop at nothing to find out what happened to his dad’s friend, a man he looked up to, that happened to be black. That’s not quite what the story delivered to me. I loved the story, I truly did but reality did not meet expectation. I had to adjust my expectation to find that reality was handing me a pretty amazing book of community, faith, friendship, love, and doing the right thing even when no one knows it’s the right thing.
Isaac Reynolds may have just been a field hand on the Ballard farm. Isaac Reynolds may have been a black man scrapping a living for his family in The South during the 1960’s. But he was also a friend to Pete McLean’s father, a friend to Pete after his father passed away, and an all around genuinely nice man. And then he disappeared. In his quest to find out what happened to his friend and to some degree role model, Pete made some pretty sketchy decisions. One of those decisions brought him in direct contact with Dovey Pickett. Dovey is an entirely different Southern enigma stereotype. She’s holler people. Backwoods, country folks that tend to avoid as much civilization as possible. Dovey and Pete start an unlikely, and completely secret, friendship. A friendship that the adults around them (once exposed of course) know even at their young ages is one for the ages. Daddy Ballard is really the mastermind behind the question to find the truth about Isaac.
This books brings me a story that while quaint and somewhat syrupy is also endearing and absorbing. While I was disappointed in the veer it took from what I expected it gave me something that I’ll never regret investing myself into. The characters might as well have walked around in skin and fabric taking the air I breath as their own. Again though, syrupy. Even the villains, which I loved to despise, were a bit too syrupy. They weren’t overly villainous but more annoying twits of stereotypical toadnuggetness. The story moved like honey sitting in the sun on a warm summer day though I did get caught in a sugar lump or two between reading in spurts due to that whole work thing and trying to work out how all the other stuff fit into the Isaac mystery. Don’t mind me, I’m feeling my inner cranky southern woman for a moment. The truth is this is an author I plan to keep my eye on. Coming of age type stories (which is totally tied with mystery as my favorite genre to read and is the only type of fiction I work on during Nano) are hard to win at but this book does it. I might have lost sight of the synopsis but it found me at the end. And I’m ever so grateful it did.