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Book Review: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Book Review: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

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As a female Southern reader, it feels shameful to never had read any Joshilyn Jackson before. But I checked out Gods in Alabama from the library and read it while at a work event in Dallas. I knocked out almost half of the book on that 2 hour flight. Then I finished it 2 days later because I just had to know what happened. And let me tell you, I am jumping on the Joshilyn Jackson bandwagon and will read the rest of her books. For a debut novel, she writes about the South so well, so I can only assume she just gets better with her subsequent books.

Gods in Alabama is the story of Arlene Fleet who fled her hometown of Possett, Alabama after high school and made a deal with God to never return home. She has her life together in Chicago with her long-time black boyfriend, Burr. But when an old classmate turns up at her apartment asking about Jim Beverly, Arlene’s life starts unraveling. The novel goes back and forth between current day and when Arlene was in high school. Burr forces an ultimatum on Arlene: he goes with her to Alabama to meet her white (and racist) Southern Baptist family or they break up for good.

So a road trip ensues with Arlene panicking about what to tell Burr about what exactly happened to Jim Beverly. In flashbacks, we learn that an incident with Clarice (Arlene’s cousin/best friend), Arlene, and Jim occurs when Clarice and Arlene were freshmen and Jim was a junior, even though Clarice and Arlene vow never to speak of it. Once they begin their sophomore year, Arlene takes it upon herself to make sure no one ever hurts Clarice, so she sleeps with every boy in their class, except for Bud, Clarice’s boyfriend. Pretty faulty logic for a fifteen year old, but in her own sweet way, Arlene only ever wants to protect Clarice.  But something snaps in Arlene, when she sees Jim behaving in a similar way to a freshman girl.

As we learn more about that ill-fated night, Arlene has to deal with the fall-out of introducing her black boyfriend to her white family and then why she has not seen her family in 10 years, even though she talks to them on the phone twice a week. Her aunt Florence is a force to be reckoned with and is determined to find out why Arlene left and never came back. And what Florence wants, she usually gets, though she has found her match in Arlene.

Jackson writes life in a small Southern town with both its flaws and its best qualities, which is more than most “Southern fiction”. Gods in Alabama is a great Southern read, and I cannot wait to read more Joshilyn Jackson. I give it 4 stars.

Also, let's talk about the first line: "There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus." Truer words may never have been spoken.

Let me know what Joshilyn Jackson book I should read next.

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