Supernatural and/or voodoo type elements are usually turn offs for me in books, but The Gates of Evangeline and The Star Side of Bird Hill are two debut novels that bucked the trend!
The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
Southern Fiction (Released September 1, 2015)
Bottom Line: Read it…if you’re looking for a Southern family drama page turner.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Putnam) via NetGalley
Plot Summary: To escape the grief over losing her son, New Yorker Charlotte Cates decamps to Louisiana to write a book about a thirty year-old missing person case involving the wealthy Deveau family of the estate, Evangeline.
My Thoughts: I love me some Southern family drama and books about wealthy people behaving badly, so it’s not surprising that those aspects of this debut novel appealed to me. But, The Gates of Evangeline also contains a number of elements that usually turn me off: ghosts/visions, a cliche romance, some cheesy writing, and some predictable plot twists. But, I really enjoyed this book despite all the red flags. It reads quickly and easily and, though I guessed a couple of the major plot points early on, I was surprised by most of the surrounding details. Maybe I just needed a solid Southern family drama page turner or, maybe, I just needed an easy read. Whatever the reason, The Gates of Evangeline came along at just the right time and would make a great beach read.
The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson
Fiction (Released June 30, 2015)
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After their mother becomes unable to care for them in Brooklyn, sisters Dionne (16) and Phaedra (10) are sent to live with their midwife grandmother (Hyacinth) on Bird Hill in Barbados.
My Thoughts: Everything about this debut novel is just gorgeous: most obviously the writing, but also the coming of age story with generational and cultural clashes front and center. Dionne and Phaedra have been raised in troubling circumstances in Brooklyn and experience quite a culture shock when they arrive on conservative Bird Hill. They suddenly have far more oversight and discipline than they’re used to in the form of Hyacinth’s tough love. Each sister adjusts to Bird Hill differently and poses unique challenges for Hyacinth, resulting in most of the “life lessons” passages that pepper this novel.
You can’t wait for someone else to save you from the life you made for yourself. If I teach you girls anything, I hope it’s how to gird up your loins and face the fate that’s yours.
Jackson’s language flows beautifully, with a comforting tone that invites you into the hominess of Bird Hill. With Hyacinth’s role as the local midwife and practitioner of Obeah (a Caribbean form of folk magic involving herbs and potions) and a high value placed on community and religion, there is a strong sense of place and a simpler way of life. I’m usually not a huge fan of anything resembling folk magic, but Jackson makes it work here much like it worked for me in The Unraveling of Mercy Louis and The Shore. The Star Side of Bird Hill was my favorite August read, came this close to getting 5 stars from me, and is going on my Great Books Under 300 Pages List!