Two years ago, my husband and I planned a trip to Pensacola. I was dying for the beach, and I convinced him it was a good idea by letting him route our trip through Alabama and Mississippi so we could hit some music museums he wanted to see, and of course, our favorite place: Oxford, Mississippi. A day or so before we left, I headed to Barnes and Noble to pick out some beach reads. Cosmo, definitely, and I needed a new book. I didn’t have a lot of requirements for the book; it just had to look interesting and like a decent escape. I did not want to sit on the beach reading Wuthering Heights.
I guess it took me a while to sort through every book in the store, because finally Joe came up to me holding a copy of Gods in Alabama, by Joshilyn Jackson. I’d never heard of it, but (proof of how ready he was to go home) he pointed out that Glamour had given it a good review on the back, comparing it to Steel Magnolias. Sounded perfect for a beach read, and I’m a sucker for southern fiction anyway.
It was better than I could have imagined, so much more interesting than the chick lit I had been looking for. From the first sentence: “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniels, high school quarterbacks, trucks…” I was lost in the world of Arlene Fleet. I was never quite sure I really wanted to be friends with her–her sweet cousin Clarice sounded like a much safer bet–but I was instantly immersed in the mystery and familiarity of her life. I knew people like Arlene, with just enough craziness to make them lovable. A novel about the the complexities and secrets among women in families, Gods in Alabama sucked me in, and I couldn’t escape. I didn’t want to. I spent the entire trip down to Pensacola reading hilarious bits out loud to my husband and trying to explain to him why I just couldn’t put this book down. I think he regretted suggesting it.
Ultimately, it’s a story about which secrets are worth keeping, and what exactly you would be willing to do for the people you love. It was so powerful, endearing, and captivating that I had a hard time paying attention to the beach I’d waited months to visit. Growing up in Kentucky, I could completely relate to the setting Joshilyn Jackson created and to her description of southern culture, but you don’t have to be southern to relate to this book, or any of her subsequent novels: Between, Georgia, and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. If you’re looking for something wonderful to read this summer, definitely check out Joshilyn Jackson.