What a great story to read while on holiday. Cover shows a black boy and white girl, so you know it is a love story and a love story pretty much doomed to fail. Which is exactly what happens. But what terrific story telling it is, leaving the reader with the whole whirl of emotions during the course of the story.
Isabelle McAllister is 90 years old, lives in a small town in Texas. Like any 90 year old she has a story or two to tell. Over a ten year period, she has developed a close friendship with her hairdresser, Dorrie, a black woman in her 30s. One day Isabelle asks Dorrie to drive her from Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio - a journey of some days - so Isabelle can attend a funeral. The resulting road trip, which would appear to be most unusual venture - elderly white woman being driven across coutnry by young black woman - draws its fair share of comment and feedback from those they encounter on the way. But it does allow Isabelle to tell her story of forbidden love. Dorrie, a single parent, meanwhile has her own problems with her teenage son, and trying to find the courage to trust what appears to finally be a decent man in her life.
Isabelle's story, beginning in 1939, is riveting, Dorrie's not so much. In fact compared to the social mores of 1939, Dorrie really has nothing to complain about, and by the end of the book she has finally woken her ideas up, sorted herself and her family out. Whew. She really needed to give herself a kick in the pants! But Isabelle, wow she was quite something. As a teenager she falls madly in love with Robert, the teenage son of the family's housekeeper, Cora. Robert and his younger sister Nell, have grown up with Isabelle, whose father is the local doctor. It goes without saying that the ramifications of the love affair are huge, and the funeral being attended by Isabelle and Dorrie now, in 2013, is directly linked to these two families.
There is a lot going on in this story, and it would have been good to have some back story on Robert and his family, as well as Dorrie's family and her love interest. I can imagine black/white relations in 1939 Kentucky being pretty grim, and the writer certainly pulls no punches in her descriptions of these times. She has based the novel on her own grandmother's impossible love affair with a young black man, and it is Isabelle's story which holds the whole book together. Well worth reading, and it would make a fabulous movie/TV series.