'A Southern Place' is full of great characters

'A Southern Place' is full of great characters

Elaine Drennon Little introduces readers to a dysfunctional family full of misunderstood souls in her debut novel, "A Southern Place."

The pages of Little's novel are filled with characters that readers will feel like they could reach out and hug — that's how much detail and work this talented author put into her first book. It's a character-driven ride, mostly through the late 1950s South, focusing on hard-working, proud individuals who can't catch a break.

Little chose to tell the story through the eyes of five characters, and this is where the strength in the book lies. When the novel opens with Mojo, the youngest of the cast, beaten almost to death and in the hospital in the late 1980s, the sheriff reveals how awful her background is and how she really hasn't got anybody left in the world.

Readers will form an opinion on Mojo's family before finishing up that beginning section; but as the author spends the majority of the book in the point of view of Mojo's mother, uncle and father (whom she doesn't know), opinions will soon change.

That's the beauty of Little's first novel: She drives home the point that appearances are not always the truth; life is seldom what it seems. No one knows what happens behind closed doors.

Once Little flashes back to the past to the late 1950s, readers meet Phil (Mojo's daddy, even though it's a huge secret), a rich kid whose learning disabilities are an embarrassment to his successful and powerful father.

Calvin, Mojo's uncle, works on Phil's daddy's plantation and is well-respected — that is until a farming accident leaves him with a hook instead of a hand.

Then there's Delores, Calvin's younger sister and Mojo's mama. She, like Mojo, is a good, kind woman who just wants to take care of her family and do the right thing. She's willing to take just about any job she can and lend an ear to any poor soul. This is how she gets together with Phil, starting a short and passionate affair.

Once all the pieces of the plot are in motion, Little alternates points of view between the three main characters, showing readers how one choice can lead to a life full of heartache. Sometimes, though, the characters' misfortune isn't a result of their own choices, like when Cal is involved in the farming accident.

If readers are a fan of "Les Miserables," they might be reminded a bit of this classic novel while reading "A Southern Place." Not because it takes place in 19th-century France, but because these Georgian 20th-century characters are down on their luck and often wind up in poverty and sickness.

Little grew up on a farm in southern Georgia, where much of her novel is set. She taught music for 27 years in public school and graduated with a master's of fine arts degree in 2008. She lives in northern Georgia with her husband, and she blogs at elainedrennonlittle.wordpress.com/.

When the novel ends, readers have a real understanding of how the beginning could happen: Just how did young, innocent Mojo wind up beaten to a pulp in the hospital? Little brings the plot full circle and even ends with a bit of hope.

This Southern saga is sure to leave readers wanting more from Little soon.

Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/). She lives in St. Louis with her family.

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