- Written By: Laura Lane McNeal
- Published By: Pamela Dorman Books an imprint of Viking, July 3, 2014
- Length: 352 pages
- Source: E galley via Edelweiss with publisher permission.
Summary: When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.
For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.
For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.
By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.
My Thoughts: I’ll be honest, both the title and the cover of Dollbaby were what first struck me as beautiful and then the synopsis grabbed me. I love a coming of age book, and one set in the 60’s in the south with Civil Rights in the forefront…I had to read this book.
Three generations of black women are at the core of this book. Queenie is the cook and matriarch of her family, her own daughter, Dollbaby cleans in the same house for Miss Fannie. Her daughter, Birdelia is a young girl, much like the now fatherless Liberty(Ibby) Bell who is dropped off at her grandmother Fannie’s home in New Orleans. These three women will help young Ibby grow up and learn about love and life and her much deeper family history. What begins in 1964 just before Ibby’s twelfth birthday is a story of a young girl who hasn’t known much happiness in her life. Her father has died in a tragic accident and her mother needs a break, so drives her from Washington state to New Orleans, to a grandmother she’s never known about, and drops her off with an urn of father’s ashes.
Fannie was married young and came to live in a fine house on Prytania Street, the help came with the house, and while she wasn’t accustomed to these things, she grew to depend on and love Queenie and her family. Her husband was a man of the river, and he often left to work, but adored and cherished his Fannie. When we meet Fannie in 1964 she’s been alone for many years, and she’s not really sure what’s she’s going to do with this newly introduced granddaughter. In some ways it’s a second chance for Fannie to raise a child, and while her secrets are many, she wants to do what’s best for Ibby.
I loved everything about this book, the setting, so rich in history, culture, and tales of times past. The characters were equally rich and layered with so many secrets of their own. The time of change as the book begins on the day that President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. As we all know change comes very slowly in the south when it comes to issues of color. The book follows Ibby’s adjustment to her new home and it also shares the changes that Fannie and the help face. The reader is treated to the ins and outs of the relationships they have, and how the secrets long held are better when they come out, and the love of family is more than birthright and color.
This is Laura’s first book, and I highly recommend it. I also had the pleasure of meeting the author last week at the Vero Beach Book Center. She was pure joy. Laura was kind and open and told great tales of how as a resident of New Orleans she wanted to share a story of it’s past. She worried so much was lost after Hurricane Katrina and there were rumors of not rebuilding the city where she grew up. I’m anxiously awaiting more from Laura Lane McNeal!! You can visit her website where she shares recipes and an interactive map of New Orleans. Don’t miss this book…it’s so lovely!!