Please note: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence the opinions in this review in any way.
Synopsis (From GoodReads):
"I wear a locket filled with my grandmother's bones."
So begins Avonelle's Gift.
Can a descendant reach back into her family stories and recover relatives who have been lost, forgotten, rejected or excluded? What can she discover and retrieve as she breaks through negative judgements about her family's past? Avonelle's Gift vividly captures the history of a family spanning four generations, beginning with a love affair between two teenagers in 1900. A pregnant girl marries to save her family's good name at a time when childbirth and infancy were fraught with danger and mothers and babies could die. This story tells of two motherless children and how each affected the other.
By blending available facts with both her historical research and her imagination, the author has filled in the missing pieces of a tale that deserves to be told. As she focuses on bringing out what is emotionally true, she expresses the depth and complexity she finds in her family over several generations.
Avonelle's Gift tells of early deaths, lost loves, lost families, unbridled ambition, political corruption, social ostracism and redemption at a time when people could begin anew and rebuild their lives for the better. Like so many family stories with villains, victims and heroes, it tells of courage, determination and the capacity for human hearts to change.
Review:I was really looking forward to reading Avonelle's Gift, by Nova Scheller. I love historical fiction and this seemed like a book I would really enjoy. While there were engaging characters, and very interesting details of life in the 1900's, I found the book problematic and depressing.
What I liked:
Characters:The characters in Avonelle's gift are certainly memorable. There are Avonelle and Maudie, two teens who's quick affair is the catalyst for the story. I enjoyed Avonell's Creole speech patterns and his determination to find his child. The product of the teens coupling, Ethel an outcast because of her dark skin who is sent to an orphanage after Maudie's death. And there is Virgil, who is shuffled off the relatives after his mother dies and his father won't keep him. the story mostly centers around Ethel and Virgil as they start as innocent teens and evolve over the years.
Historical details:I loved the historical details of daily life that I have never seen before in books. I had no idea about how women dealt with their monthly "visits" and how what class you were determined how (and what) you did for your body each month. i also was fascinated with what people did back then to survive. Planting a garden for them was not a hobby, and there was no way you would not eat everything given to you by your mother. Food and resources were scarce and people were grateful for what they had.
What I didn't like:
Problems with the story:I had a hard time believing that in the 1880's (when the story first begins) that an innocent girl would meet a boy and 15 minutes later she is having sex with him. I don't see how this would happen. There was nothing in the lead up to this that would suggest that Maudie would be promiscuous and she certainly was not stupid.
There was also a lot of graphic sex scenes in the book that I felt were crude and unnecessary.
The biggest problem was with how the story was laid out. This book is based on the author's family history, so here is the issue: the story doesn't actually follow Avonelle's family. Instead it shifts the focus halfway through the book to center on Virgil. After Ethel's death, the story shifts to Virgil's life. But it really should have maintained the focus on Avonelle's actual descendants and started following Ethel's children, Silva and Buddy. I was very put off by the shift in focus.
Depressing Message:Ultimately, this was a very depressing story to read where most characters go from wide-eyed innocence to bitter, nasty old people. There are paralleling stories where fathers reject children from first marriages in favor of children from a second family. The message seemed to be a massive rationalization for this kind of behavior. Does the author really believe that cutting your children out of your life to keep your new wife happy is ever justifiable? I found this appalling.
Due to this disturbing message I cannot recommend this book. Although the writing is excellent, the theme is not.
Release Date: September 9th, 2015
Recommendation: Although the details are insightful, the message of this book is depressing. Read it if your in a mood to hate humanity.