Publication Date: April 16, 2017
It’s 1955 and Catherine is a college student. She travels from California to Arkansas to help her father sort out her grandmother’s situation in the wake of his father’s death. She reconnects with Jimmy, the son of her grandmother’s housekeeper and her favorite playmate as a young child. The attraction between them in strong but the south is a dangerous place for a black man showing anything other than casual indifference to a white woman. Will their love survive the hate of those around them?
The author, Anne Moose, sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
We meet Catherine following the death of her husband. She’s young and she and her daughter are grieving together when she finds the need to get the story of young love off of her chest. Moose treats her readers to the charm of 1955 complete with hot bus filled with sweating and stinking humanity. We’re told that her grandfather has died from whom her father was estranged for a reason not yet revealed to the protagonist. Catherine’s mother, not beloved by her in-laws, has opted to stay in California leaving her husband and daughter to reconnect with his mother. Catherine also connects with Jimmy who she hasn’t seen since she was 9 years old. He’s now 20 and attractive both for his history with Catherine and his strength and intelligence. Jimmy and Catherine are young, hormonally charged and an accident waiting to happen. The case of young Emmett Till is fresh in the minds of those involved, especially Jimmy’s mother who is understandably afraid of losing her second oldest child.
Arkansas Summer, for the most part, is a very real story. I was not around in 1955 but have studied the Civil Rights era and a lot of what Moose presents bears up as a possibility historically speaking. To be black in the South at a time when the color of one’s skin was enough to get one killed (and still is today in some locations), was a dangerous proposition. Catherine is perhaps a bit of a limp fish at first but when she and Jimmy reconnect, their passion reads as authentic. The narrative is simple but engaging. We experience Arkansas with Catherine and while it’s beautiful, the peril is clear. While some of Catherine’s dialogue it trite at the start, it reads as a real child on the cusp of adulthood. I received Arkansas Summer in print form and it’s very cleanly edited. Roughly 1/3 of the way through this 302 page work, the story gets very interesting taking some unexpected turns.
The romantic story of Arkansas Summer is not a surprise but Moose gives readers an engaging tale of wide eyed innocence and tragedy chased by anger and hate and, ultimately, revenge. The story shifts seamlessly between eras and when ultimately we return to Catherine and her daughter, Hannah, their look back and Hannah’s memories of key moments tie together how far society has come and how far we have left to go. We have all either witnessed or experienced hate and we are the key to change. Moose conveys a social unconscious beyond the forbidden and ill fated love of two 20 year old college students.
I found Arkansas Summer very interesting. Catherine, Hannah, Jimmy, et al…are fascinating and Moose’s writing style maintains tension and fear without protracting the story unnecessarily. Without giving spoilers, I adored the ending. I would read another book by this author without hesitation.
Do you like historically based fiction? Pick Arkansas Summer up today. You will not be disappointed.