On July 4, 1955, in rural Georgia, an act of violence threatens the life of Vidalia Lee Kandal's pre-born daughter. Despite the direst of circumstances, the spirit of the lost child refuses to leave her ill-equipped young mother's side.
For as long as she is needed―through troubled pregnancies, through poverty, through spousal abuse and agonizing betrayals―Cieli Mae, the determined spirit child, narrates their journey. Serving as a safe place and sounding board for Vidalia's innermost thoughts and confusions, lending a strength to her momma's emerging voice, Cieli Mae provides her own special brand of comfort and encouragement, all the while honoring the restrictions imposed by her otherworldly status.
Vidalia finds further support in such unlikely townsfolk and relations as Doc Feldman, Gamma Gert and her Wild Women of God, and, most particularly, in Ruby Pearl Banks, the kind, courageous church lady, who has suffered her own share of heartache in their small Southern town of yesteryear's prejudices and presumptions.
My Sweet Vidalia is wise and witty, outstanding for its use of vibrant, poetic language and understated Southern dialect, as well as Mantella's clear-eyed observations of race relations as human relations, a cast of unforgettable characters, an in-depth exploration of the ties that bind, and its creative perspective. My Sweet Vidalia is a rare, wonderful, and complex look at hope, strength, the unparalleled power of unconditional love, and a young mother's refusal to give up.
Right off the bat I'm going to tell you I absolutely LOVED this book. It reminded me so much of one of my favorite books of all time, Televenge by Pamela King Cable because the main female characters are just so similar. They both marry young, desperately wanting children, and their husbands are alcoholic, abusive, and basically cause them to lose their babies and set them on a lifetime path of hardship and heartache. I knew I had to read this book when I learned that My Sweet Vidalia is told in the voice of Cieli Mae, Vidalia's first baby who she tragically loses after her husband decides he doesn't want to be a father after all. Some could say Vidalia kind of loses her mind because she begins to speak to Cieli Mae and use her as her confidant, though she's just a spirit now.
The story takes place in the deep south in the 50's, so you can imagine the racial tensions and the stereotypes already present. Add to that the tumultuous home life of Vidalia and those around her, and this book is a really fast read. I really could not put it down because I just wanted her to be OK, to find some kind of happiness despite the hand she's already been dealt. Another amazing thing is this is a DEBUT novel and I'm telling you right now, the writing style in this book is just really wonderful. It's sweet, it makes you feel you really are in the deep south and you just feel at home, and you feel like you are sitting across the table of a grown up Cieli Mae telling you about her life.
I can't hint to you at how it ends because the path all the way to the end is so damn great, even though it's awful, that it would really ruin it all for you. I will say that if you don't like to read about domestic violence, hostile prejudice, and things of that nature, maybe not the book for you. But if you can weather through those, I promise you this is a book that will stick with you. You'll find yourself thinking about the characters long after you've finished.
I will share a special gem that I particularly enjoyed only because it reminded me of something my own parents would do. But at the very beginning of the book we learn Vidalia got pregnant by her high school sweetheart, JB, and so back then it was only natural for her to drop out and get married. At the wedding, JB is really spiking the punch with liquor and her father, who doesn't have anything of real value to offer her as she sets upon her new life, quietly hands her a gun "just in case". It's not funny and you shouldn't laugh, but picturing this happening at a quiet wedding, with a pregnant bride, and an already drunk husband... it's kind of uncomfortably funny. As if her dad knew exactly what her fate would end up being.
It's so early in the year, but this is going to be at the top of my best books of 2016 list, I can already feel it. You can get your own copy of My Sweet Vidalia on Amazon. In the meantime, you can connect with the author, Deborah Mantella, on her website, Facebook and Twitter!