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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: American Ghost by Janis Owens

It's unusual to find a book set in Florida that is definitely "Southern" but this one certainly qualifies. 18-year-old Jolie and her best friend Lena meet a grad student, Sam, studying the Creek Indians in their obscure neck of Northern Florida, Hendrix. Sam and Lena hit it off and in a few months she's not only helping him interview the notoriously difficult town residents about their heritage, but they're also falling in love. However it turns out that Sam isn't there just for the Creek - he's also on the side researching the local scandal. In the 1930s, Hendrix was the site of one of the most vicious and last lynchings in the United States. And digging up these ghosts is not going to go well for anyone involved.

Ms. Owens has created a unique character in Lena - church-going, reticent, stubborn, and determined to not follow the sorry path of her female relatives to poverty and infamy. She felt really real, and while I don't know that I'd have liked her if I met her, she did feel very authentic. As did the accents. Ms. Owens didn't overuse them, they weren't at all hard to decipher and most importantly, they didn't feel insulting. They added to the atmosphere of these self-described Crackers in rural small-town insular Florida.

In Act 3 of the book, a host of new characters appear, and I'd rather they hadn't (the ones Lena works with are understandable and easy enough to mostly ignore, but I do wish the Hendrixes had been at least mentioned in the first half of the book. The third act also takes some surprising turns, mostly good and believable, although I found the Big Secret not to be very earth-shattering or life-threatening after all. Even once Lena found out what it was, all the apprehension and fear just disappeared. So while all the loose ends were tied up, not all were as satisfactory as this reader wished. That said, it was a wonderfully suspenseful and surprising story, with culture clashes, ugly history, and honest truths about the South. Janis Owens is a terrific Southern author who really knows how to keep readers guessing.

I borrowed this book from the library.

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