Narrated by Catherine Taber
Length: 8 hours 16 minutes
Arlene Fleet is not going home to Alabama. No matter how many times she gets the guilt trip from her Aunt Flo on their bi-weekly phone calls or what family event might be creeping up on the horizon. Arlene left that life behind many years ago and is now involved with a great man and has a good life, far away from all the drama. But the romantic situation is heating up with her boyfriend, Burr, and when he gives Arlene an ultimatum about meeting her family before he takes the relationship to the next step, she’s conflicted. Then a visitor from her past finds her in her new life and threatens to unearth the secret she’s been hiding for years. In order to protect herself and her family, and give Burr what he wants, Arlene finds herself making her way back to her hometown, deadly secrets in tow. In alternating chapters between the past and the present, Arlene and her past deeds unfurl like a bud. Though she tries desperately to hold on to the secret that changed her life one impossibly vicious night long ago, it seems like both Burr and Aunt Flo might discover it anyway. In this vibrant and enthralling southern fiction novel, the dark deeds of a good woman threaten to come to light in a past that seems far away but has never really been forgotten.
I’ve been hearing praises sung about Joshilyn Jackson’s work for a very long time. I actually think she was put on my radar about two years back, but up until now, I haven’t taken the chance to explore her work. When I found out that she would be attending this year’s UCF Book Festival and that her newest book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, was indeed just as amazing as some of her older work, I knew I had to get on board and give Jackson’s books a try. This audio production was narrated by Catherine Taber and I thought she did a great job with it. Her voice was playful and jovial but had the capacity to be grave and serious when situations in the narrative demanded it. I liked the sweet and melodious tones of Taber’s delivery immensely and felt that she was a good choice for the narration of this story.
Arlene is living a normal life as a college professor and has landed herself in the middle of a perfectly wonderful relationship with Burr, but there are a few points she’s not willing to concede on with him and it’s starting to make him a little agitated. One of the main points of contention is Burr’s race, which is not something that she feels she can share with her family, who are pure Old South. This is only one of the reasons Arlene stays away. For all intents and purposes, she has a very checkered past and is carrying some terrible secrets that she feels should never come to light. I liked Arlene a lot and felt that as a character, she was not only fully realized and multi-dimensional but that she had a lot of inner strength that she used as the foundation for the personality she’s created for herself in her new life. Arlene didn’t let the sins of her past turn her into damaged goods, and that was refreshing to me. As the story wove its clever fingers deep into my heart, I grew to really like and respect Arlene in new and constantly shifting ways.
This is a story about secrets: the ones we keep from people that we love, and the ones that change the directions of our lives. In Jackson’s deep and penetrating narrative, it becomes clear that each secret we carry is a load on our souls that either props us up or holds us down, and the real key is to determine which secrets are safe to keep and which must come out, no matter the cost. In telling the tale of Arlene, I came to realize that the girl who held all these secrets to her chest was not only frightened but also the defender of others who were more weak and fragile than she was. And it made me cheer her. The promises and bargains that Arlene has made with God to keep her secrets safe are no longer feasible for her, and in her journey home, she discovers that what she thought was hers to carry has in reality been shouldered by some unexpected people who she left behind.
I enjoyed the way that Jackson dug deep into the plight of racism within a small town. Arlene's family would have never considered themselves racist, but some of the ideas and attitudes that they held needed some readjusting, and that was accomplished humor and aplomb. Burr was a great character and a very, very patient man, which is something that I grew to love about him. There were many heart stirring themes wrestled in this book and I felt that Jackson harnessed and molded them beautifully around characters that could withstand the weight and pressure of immovable mountains. It was a cleverly crafted tale that not only shocked at times but also wasn’t afraid of levity.
I enjoyed this book so much that I’ve already started on my next read from Jackson, and I’m delighted that I’ll get the chance to hear her speak at the end of March. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of her books yet, I would say go for it with full gusto. She knows the South and she knows how to tell a great story with compelling and rich characters. A very delectable read. Recommended.