Though the U.S. in the 1930s is sunk in a depression, senator’s daughter Layla Beck doesn’t have much firsthand experience of deprivation — until she refuses to marry the man her parents have picked out for her, and they cut her off, forcing her to get a job. Her father’s connections get her a position with the Federal Writers’ Project, which gives her the assignment of writing a local history for the town of Macedonia, West Virginia. At first, Layla is extremely resistant to the idea of burying herself in such a tiny town, and she tries to get out of the assignment, but since there’s no other work to be had, she must eventually give in. When she arrives in Macedonia, she stays with the eccentric Romeyn family, which includes the dashing Felix, his strong-minded sister Jottie, and his precocious daughter Willa. Layla can’t help but be drawn to Felix, but the closer she becomes to him, the more she realizes that the Romeyns are hiding a decades-old secret that could shake Macedonia to its core. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Willa is just beginning to observe the strange behavior of the adults around her — and to take the first steps towards growing up herself.
Since Annie Barrows co-authored one of my favorite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I had high hopes for this new novel, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it very much. First of all, I loved the depiction of Macedonia, West Virginia, and its inhabitants. I honestly felt like I was living in this book — I could almost feel the summer heat bearing down on me. I also especially enjoyed the chapters written from Willa’s point of view. I loved her sharp yet childlike observations of the people around her, and how she slowly changes as she begins to realize that the adults in her life have interior lives and secrets of their own. It’s been a long time since I read To Kill a Mockingbird, but her voice made me think of Scout Finch quite a bit. I also loved Jottie, an intelligent, loving woman who has experienced tragedy but hasn’t let it break her. And although Layla is a bit snooty in the beginning of the book, her experiences in Macedonia definitely change her for the better as well. My one complaint is that the book is a little long; I think it probably could have been edited a bit more thoroughly. But overall, I liked this book a lot and would definitely recommend it to fans of historical fiction and/or literature about the South.