Book Review: Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson
"...but it was more than that. It was all of them. Every Frett and Crabtree with a breath in their body became dangerous, ruthless, would never bend or stop when they were protecting one of their own."
Another day, another Joshilyn Jackson novel. Between, Georgia was her second novel after Gods in Alabama. Between is a tiny little town in Georgia outside of Loganville, in between Atlanta and Athens. The novel focuses on two families in Between, the Fretts and the Crabtrees. Nonny Frett is the biological daughter of Hazel Crabtree, but Hazel gives Nonny up to Stacia Frett because she does not want her mother Ona to know she was pregnant. Stacia suffers from Usher Syndrome, where she is born deaf and then will eventually go blind. Once Ona Crabtree discovers that Nonny is actually her granddaughter, the already tense relationship between the Crabtrees and the Fretts intensifies.
Nonny Frett is thirty years old, living in Athens as an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter. She is divorcing her husband Jonno of 10 years, yet keeps finding herself falling back into bed with him. Because of her mother's illness, Nonny has always stayed close to home. Stacia’s twin sister Genny suffers from extreme anxiety, so the two of them have relied on each other their whole lives and both helped raise Nonny. Stacia and Genny live next door to their sister Bernese, the Frett matriarch. Bernese and Ona Crabtree are sworn enemies, and every interaction between the two families is bound to end in disaster. When Genny and Stacia are walking home past the Crabtree’s spare parts yard, three dogs escape the fence and attack Genny and Stacia. Both end up in the hospital, and Nonny must come home and take care of the two of them.
While Nonny is back in Between, she also has to deal with Fisher, Bernese’s five year old granddaughter. Fisher and Nonny are attached at the hip, but Bernese is taking some things out on Fisher that Nonny disapproves of, so there is all this tension and animosity underlying between Nonny and Bernese. Bernese is extremely against Nonny divorcing Jonno and does not hold back any of her opinions. And on top of all the tension between Nonny and Bernese, Nonny is forced to figure out how to deescalate the Crabtree-Frett situation after Bernese shot one of the dogs that attacked Genny and Stacia.
Nonny has always been at the center of the Crabtree-Frett rivalry, biologically a Crabtree, but raised as a Frett. It doesn’t help that Ona always corners her and insults her Frett family. The only Crabtree she gets along with is Henry Crabtree. Henry’s father was a cousin of Ona’s, so he and Nonny are distantly related. Henry has always been a good friend to Nonny, but Nonny starts to notice Henry in a new light. But is she actually ready to divorce Jonno and start something with Henry?
As I have said many times, Joshilyn Jackson writes the South with all of its flaws and doesn’t shy away from the hard issues. But as in her other novels that I have read (Gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters), Jackson focuses on female family relationships in Between, Georgia. The relationships between Nonny and her various relatives are all extremely different. Fisher and Nonny’s relationship contrasts with Nonny and Bernese’s relationship. Even though they are both niece-aunt relationships, Nonny understands that Fisher needs a different parenting environment than the one Bernese can provide. Bernese is such a dominant personality that she is used to everyone in her life ceding to her wishes. And throughout Nonny’s life, she has just kind of let things happen to her, never really making any definitive decisions. But thankfully because of the imminent showdown between the Crabtrees and Fretts, Nonny is forced to take some action in her own life.
I also loved the way that Jackson wrote about Usher Syndrome and specifically those who communicate in American Sign Language and read Braille. Nonny and Genny both have to sign directly into Stacia’s hands now that she is blind. I have not read many books where there are many blind or deaf characters, much less blind and deaf (the only book that comes to mind is All the Light We Cannot See), so it was interesting to read about those who are different but are still living normal lives.
I really enjoyed Between, Georgia and loved reading about a small town in my home state. It was a great read with complex relationships and characters. I am excited to read more of Joshilyn Jackson, and I can since I got two of her books for Christmas! I give Between, Georgia 4 stars.
Let me know what other southern fiction writer you love the most.