Tag Archives: Valerie Fraser Luesse

Book Review: Missing Isaac

17 Jan

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.

 

Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.

 

My Impressions:

This review is going to be difficult to write. Although Missing Isaac, the debut novel of Valerie Fraser Luesse, is a book that has it all — relatable and complex characters, a story that grabs your heart, and a voice speaks to the soul — it is difficult to get past the emotions that it elicited and name specifics as to why you should read it. And read it, you must! This book will win awards, I guarantee. And it most definitely will be on my best of the best list for 2018, if not of all time. It gets the very rare Very Highly Recommended distinction from me.

The time is the 1960s and the place is rural Alabama. It is a simple time for 11 year-old Pete who adores his father and has not a care in the world. But things can change in an instant, and Pete is swept up into a world of loss and grief. His anchor in the storm is an unlikely friend — a 30-something black man who has worked most of his life as a field hand for Pete’s family. They form an easy bond, but in another life-changing moment, Isaac disappears, leaving Pete unsettled and determined to find our what has happened to Isaac Reynolds.

Luesse has a beautiful writing style. The language of the different classes and races shines through in her flowing narrative and dialogue. The characters, quirky and oh so Southern, are real. I found myself quickly immersed in the story. And though Missing Isaac is a novel to be savored, it was a surprisingly quick read. I just could not put it down, and the many distractions around me faded the minute I stepped into the world of Glory, Alabama. There’s a lot going on in Glory, the nuances and undercurrents of which Pete is innocent. His encounter with a girl from the Hollow expands his experiences with life and love beyond his safe home. You see, there are all kinds of worlds out there that we have no knowledge of. As Dovey puts it — “Pete, what’s throwin’ you off is that you think there’s just one world we all live in, but there’s not. There’s a bunch of ’em. There’s the world you come from and the world I come from and the world Isaac comes from — there’s all kinda worlds. And the only people that don’t seem to know that are the ones that come from yours.” What I especially liked about this book is that Luesse merged those worlds, those different classes of people that made their home in Glory, in a beautiful way.

Missing Isaac is a poignant look at a time gone by that is not so distant from our own time, a time that hasn’t changed enough. But while it handles some heavy issues, there is a lightness and a wit about it that keeps the darkness at bay. There are some really funny moments in the midst of fear and grief and discouragement — a picture of real life. Missing Isaac has a wonderful foundation of faith as well. It is as natural and living as the fields that surround the small farming community.

I hope my ramblings will get you interested enough to pick this one up. Missing Isaac is my book club’s February selection. I cannot wait for my friends to read it!

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: young adults through adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Revell for a complimentary copy. All opinion expressed are mine alone.)

 

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First Line Friday — Missing Isaac

12 Jan

This week, First Line Friday is featuring Diversity. Books featuring characters of color, civil rights, or Martin Luther King, Jr. are being shared by other bloggers. Over the years my book club has read books that involve the fragile state of race relations in the United States. Sometimes difficult to read, many times challenging to our mindsets, these books have created thought-provoking discussions. Be sure to check out The Color of Justice by Ace Collins, A Time to Stand by Robert Whitlow, and Snapshot by Lis Wiehl.

This week I am featuring By The Book’s February selection, Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse. Set in the American South in the 1960s, I anticipate that this one will be another great read. Please leave a comment with your first line and then head over to Hoarding Books to check out what other bloggers are sharing.

 

 

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.

Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.

 

If You Liked A Time to Stand . . .

30 Nov

If you liked BTB’s November 2017 selection, A Time to Stand by Robert Whitlow, check out these books!

The Color of Justice by Ace Collins.

Two racially charged cases. Two attorneys searching for the truth. But only one will stay alive long enough to find it. 

1964

Justice, Mississippi, is a town divided. White and black. Rich and poor. Rule makers and rule breakers. Right or wrong, everyone assumes their place behind a fragile façade that is about to crumble.  When attorney Coop Lindsay agrees to defend a black man accused of murdering a white teenager, the bribes and death threats don’t intimidate him. As he prepares for the case of a lifetime, the young lawyer knows it’s the verdict that poses the real threat—innocent or guilty, because of his stand Coop is no longer welcome in Justice. As he follows his conscience, he wonders just how far some people will go to make sure he doesn’t finish his job?

2014

To some, the result of the trial still feels like a fresh wound even fifty years later, when Coop’s grandson arrives in Justice seeking answers to the questions unresolved by the trial that changed his family’s legacy. When a new case is presented, again pitting white against black, this third generation Lindsay may have the opportunity he needs to right the wrongs of the past. 

But hate destroys everything it touches, and the Lindsay family will not escape unscathed.

Home at Last by Deborah Raney.

Why did their differences matter so much?

Link Whitman has settled into the role of bachelor without ever intending to. Now he’s stuck in a dead-end job and, as the next Whitman wedding fast approaches, he is the last one standing. The pressure from his sisters’ efforts to play matchmaker is getting hard to bear as Link pulls extra shifts at work, and helps his parents at the Chicory Inn.

All her life, Shayla Michaels has felt as if she straddled two worlds. Her mother’s white family labeled her African American father with names Shayla didn’t repeat in polite — well, in any company. Her father’s family disapproved as well, though they eventually embraced Shayla as their own. After the death of her mother, and her brother Jerry’s incarceration, life has left Shayla’s father bitter, her niece, Portia, an orphan, and Shayla responsible for them all. She knows God loves them all, but why couldn’t people accept each other for what was on the inside? For their hearts?
Everything changes one icy morning when a child runs into the street and Link nearly hits her with his pickup. Soon he is falling in love with the little girl’s aunt, Shayla, the beautiful woman who runs Coffee’s On, the bakery in Langhorne. Can Shayla and Link overcome society’s view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes-ugly world around them into something better for them all?

Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse. (BTB’s February 2018 Selection)

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.

No Greater Love by Kathi Macias.

Forbidden romance, an unlikely martyr, and an even more unlikely hero. Orphaned four years earlier when their parents, active in the African National Congress ANC movement against Apartheid, were murdered, 16-year-old Chioma and her 15-year-old brother Masozi now live and work on an Afrikaner family’s farm. When Chioma and Andrew, the farm owner’s son, find themselves attracted to one another, tragedy revisits their lives. Chioma escapes to join an ANC rebel band in her effort to survive and gain revenge for her family and culture. When cultures clash in life-or-death struggles, Chioma must choose between violence and revenge or forgiveness and selfless love. Loosely based on historical events and set near Pretoria, South Africa, in the violent upheaval prior to ANC leader Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and his ascendance to the presidency of South Africa, this story of forbidden romance produces an unlikely martyr who is replaced by one even more unlikely.