Summer time is a great time for relaxation and reading, and this summer I am going to be reading some of the most recently published books and sharing them with you. To start off this summer reading adventure, I picked up a book titled “Dollbaby” by Laura Lane McNeal, and nothing says summer more than a book set in the summers of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Following the death of her father, 12-year-old Liberty “Ibby” Alice Bell is dropped off at her grandmother’s home in 1964 New Orleans. Her grandmother, Fannie, is someone Ibby had never heard of before let alone met, and as her mother tells her what a mean and crazy old lady Fannie is, it is no surprise that Ibby is afraid to enter the house.
When Ibby does decide to finally walk to the door holding her father’s urn, she is greeted by Fannie’s younger maid Dollbaby, and she is soon introduced to Dollbaby’s mother and head maid Queenie. Both Queenie and Dollbaby are very nice to Ibby, and Ibby quickly learns that what her mother said about the maids and grandmother is not all true.
However, there are mysteries in the house. First, there is an old leaning tree in the front yard that throughout the years begins to bend farther and farther towards the house and ground, yet Fannie refuses to cut it down. Next, there are three bedrooms on the second floor of the house that remain locked. Dollbaby is kind enough to unlock one of the rooms—Ibby’s father’s old bedroom—for Ibby to spend some time and keep the urn in safekeeping, but it takes years and many stories before Ibby learns about the significance of the other rooms. And, lastly, there is the fact that Ibby receives a doll from her grandmother for each of her birthdays, even when she turns 16 and is too old for such things.
While Ibby is figuring out Fannie and their family secrets, readers also get to experience the Civil Rights Movement, a troubling time in American history. Queenie experiences the loss of a son who was shot in the head by some rowdy Black Panther members, Dollbaby is arrested more than once for participating in sit-ins and is only let go on the account that Fannie has a friend in the police department whose younger son is drafted and sent to Vietnam. Through all of this, Queenie keeps her head held high and takes great care of Fannie and Ibby.
I found this book at my local library, and not only did I thoroughly enjoy it because I was able to get my hands on the advanced uncorrected proof or manuscript, which meant I was able to practice copy editing, but also because this is an amazing book. I do not know which part of the book I liked the most—the flashbacks to Fannie’s younger days, the details of Ibby’s life, information about the Civil Rights Movement, or the mammy character of Queenie—but I do know this is a must read. If I had to compare it to anything, I guess it would be “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett, so if you like “The Help” or have any interest in the ’60s, I suggest you read this one.