Laura Lane McNeal, Pamela Dorman Books, 2014, hc, $26.95, p. 337, 9780670014736
published in: Historical Novels Review
Being born Liberty Bell—because she was born on July 4th—is the least of Ibby’s worries. After her father dies, her mother dumps her unceremoniously on the curb in front of her grandmother Fannie’s New Orleans house. A grandmother she doesn’t know. Queenie, Fannie’s cook, and her socially conscious, smart-mouthed daughter Dollbaby quickly adopt Ibby. Through them, Ibby is introduced to Southern, New Orleans culture, the dark side of race relations in the late 1960s, and the quirky, often manic, life of Fannie and the secrets that she harbors.
Dollbaby is an amazing novel in the vain of The Secret Life of Bees. Laura McNeal’s prose is poetic and hypnotic. Her characters are so alive you wish you could walk down the magnolia-lined streets of New Orleans with them. Other than an ending that felt somewhat contrived, McNeal weaves a spellbinding coming-of-age tale that envelops you in Ibby’s world like the ever-present humidity of the South. From Ibby’s abrupt thrust into the racial divide of the 1960s, to her reconciliation over her father’s death—one that she blames herself for—to her relationship with her grandmother and all her secrets, Dollbaby in an outstanding debut novel and one of the best books I’ve read this year. Definitely worth reading.