This is the third book in this series and the best out of all three. Jessilyn is finally acting her age in this book. But the underlying message in this book is the best. It really gets to some of the roots of hate and bitterness, and what it does to you. When the Klan does really evil things, horrible things, that deserve hate in return, Jessilyn learns how that kind of hate can burn you up inside and make you have the same evil within you. When Jessi learned you can actually forgive and pray for your enemies, and no agree with them, that was a powerful message! This was an excellent book portraying life in the south in that time period, for a family who did not accept the common misconception that God thought less of His people with different color skin. -Martha
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 20, 2010)
***Special thanks to Maggie Rowe of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for sending me a review copy.***
Jennifer Erin Valent is the 2007 winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest. A lifelong resident of the South, her surroundings help to color the scenes and characters she writes. In fact, the childhood memory of a dilapidated Ku Klux Klan billboard inspired her portrayal of Depression-era racial prejudice in Fireflies in December. She has spent the past 15 years working as a nanny and has dabbled in freelance, writing articles for various Christian women’s magazines. She still resides in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 20, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Folks in my parts liked to call it lynching, as if by calling it another word they could keep from feeling like murderers. Sometimes when they string a man up, they gather around like vultures looking for the next meal, staring at the cockeyed neck, the sagging limbs, their lips turning up at the corners when they should be turning down. For some people, time has a way of blurring the good and the bad, spitting out that thing called conscience and replacing it with a twisted sort of logic that makes right out of wrong.
Our small town of Calloway, Virginia, had that sort of logic in spades, and after the trouble it had caused my family over the years, I knew that better than most. But the violence had long since faded away, and my best friend Gemma would often tell me that made it okayher being kept separate from white folks. Long as my bein with your family dont bring danger down on your heads, Ill keep my peace and be thankful, shed say.
But I didnt feel so calm about it all as Gemma did. Part of that was my stubborn temperament, but most of it was my intuition. Id been eyeball to eyeball with pure hate more than once in my eighteen years, and I could smell it, like rotting flesh. Hate is a type of blindness that divides a man from his good sense. Id seen it in the eyes of a Klansman the day he tried to choke the life out of me and in the eyes of the men who hunted down a dear friend whod been wrongly accused of murder.
And, at times, Id caught glimpses of it in my own heart.
The passage of time had done nothing to lessen its stench. And despite the relative peace, I knew full well that hearts poisoned by hateful thinking can only simmer for so long before boiling over.
In May of that year, 1938, that pot started bubbling.
I was on the front porch shucking corn when I saw three colored men turn up our walk, all linked up in a row like the Three Musketeers. I stood up, let the corn silk slip from my apron, and called over my shoulder. Gemma! Come on out here.
She must have been nearby because the screen door squealed open almost two seconds after my last words drifted in through the screen. What is it?
Company. Only dont look too good. I walked to the top of the steps and shielded my eyes from the sun. Malachi Jarvis! You got yourself into trouble again?
The man in the middle, propped up like a scarecrow, lifted his chin wearily but managed to flash a smile that revealed bloodied teeth. Depends on how you define trouble.
Gemma gasped at the sight of him and flew down the steps, letting the door slam so loud the porch boards shook. What in the name of all goodness have you been up to? You got some sort of death wish?
A man Id never seen before had his arm wound tightly beneath Malachis arms, blood smeared across his shirt front. Malachis younger brother, Noah, was on his other side, struggling against the weight, and Gemma came in between them to help.
He aint got the good sense to keep his mouth shut, is all, Noah said breathlessly.
I went inside to grab Mommas first aid box, and by the time I got back out, Gemma had Malachi seated in the rocker.
Gemma gave him the once-over and shook her head so hard I thought it might fly off. I swear, if you aint a one to push a body into an early grave. Your poor mommas gonna lose her ever-lovin mind.
Along with his younger brother and sister, Malachi lived down by the tracks with his widowed mommaas the man of the house, so to speak. Hed taken up being friends with Luke Talley some two years back when theyd both worked for the tobacco plant, and theyd remained close even though Luke had struck out on his own building furniture. Malachi was never one to keep his peace, a fact Gemma had no patience for, and she made it good and clear many a time. Today would be no exception.
Goin around stirrin up trouble every which way, she murmured as she pulled fixings out of the first aid box. Its one thing to pick fights with your own kind. Cant say as though you wouldnt benefit by a poundin or two every now and again. But this foolin around with white folksll get you into moren youre bargainin for.
The man whod helped Noah shoulder the burden of Malachi reached out to take the gauze from Gemma. Why dont you let me get that?
Gemma didnt much like being told what to do, and she glared at him. I can clean up cuts and scrapes. I worked for a doctor past two years.
Malachi nodded towards the man. This here man is a doctor.
I was putting iodine on a piece of cotton, and I near about dropped it on the floor when I heard that. Never in all my born days had I seen a colored man claiming to be a doctor. Neither had Gemma by the looks of her.
A doctor? she murmured. You sure?
He laughed and extended his hand to her. Last I checked. Tal Pritchett. Just got into town yesterday. Gonna set up shop down by the tracks.
Gemma handed the gauze over to him, still dumbfounded.
What dyou think about that? Malachi grinned and then grimaced the minute his split lip made its presence known. A colored doc in Calloway. Shoo-whee. Theres gonna be talkin about this!
The doctor went to work cleaning up Malachis wounds. I aint here to start no revolution. Im just aimin to help the colored folks get the help they deserve.
Well, youre goin to start a revolution whether you want to or not. Malachi shut his eyes and gritted his teeth the minute the iodine set to burning. Folks in these parts dont much like colored folk settin themselves up as smart or nothin.
Gemma watched Tal Pritchett like she was analyzing his every move, finding out for herself if he was a doctor or not. I stood by and let her assist him as shed been accustomed to doing for Doc Mabley until he passed on two months ago. After hed bandaged up Malachis right hand, she seemed satisfied that he was who he said.
Noah slumped down into the other rocker and watched. Its one thing to get yourself an education and stand for your right to make somethin of yourself. Its another to go stirrin up trouble for the sake of stirrin up trouble.
I aint doin it for the sake of stirrin up trouble. I done told you that! Malachi flexed his left hand to test how well his swollen fingers moved. Aint no colored man ever goin to be free in this here county . . . in this here state . . . in this here world unless somebody starts fightin for freedom.
Slaves was freed decades ago, Noah said sharply. We aint in shackles no more.
But we aint free to live our lives as we choose, neither. You think colored people are ever gonna be moren house help and field help so long as we let ourselves be treated like less than white people? No sir. Were less than human to them white folks. They dont think nothin about killin so long as who theyre killin is colored.
Dont you go bunchin all white people together, Malachi Jarvis, I argued. Aint all white folk got bad feelins about coloreds.
Malachi waved me off in exasperation. You know I aint talkin about you, Jessilyn.
Noah had his hands tightly knotted in his lap and was staring at them like they held all the answers to the worlds problems. Alls youre doin is gettin yourself kicked around. He looked up at me pleadingly. This heres the second time in a week hes come home banged up.
I put a hand on Noahs shoulder and set my eyes on Malachi. Who did it?
He put his bandaged right hand into the air, palm up. Who knows? Some white boys. You get surrounded by enough of em, they all just blend in together like a vanilla milkshake.
Hows it you didnt see them? They jump you or somethin?
Dont ask me, Jessie. I was just mindin my own business in town and then on my way home, they start hasslin me.
What he was doin, Noah corrected, was tryin to get into the whites-only bar.
Gemma sniffed in disgust. Shouldnt have been in no bar in the first place. Theres your first mistake.
Whites-only, too. Noah kicked his foot against the porch rail and then looked up at me quickly. Sorry.
I smiled at him and turned my attention back to Malachi. Its a good thing Luke aint here to see this. He dont like you drinkin and you know it.
His eyeballs rolled between swollen lids. I dont know why he gets his trousers in a knot over it anyhow. Aint like theres prohibition no more. And hes been known to take a swig or two himself.
Luke says youre a nasty drunk.
He is. Noah knotted his hands back in his lap. And hes been at the bottle more often than not of late.
Quit tellin tales! his brother barked.
I aint tellin tales; Im tellin truth. They can ask anybody at home how late you come in, and how you come in all topsy turvy. He comes home in the middle of the mornin and sleeps in till all hours the next day.
What about your job at the plant? Gemma asked.
Malachi closed his eyes and waved her off, but his brother provided the answer for him. Lost it! He loosened his grip on his hands and snapped his fingers. Like that. Theres goes his income.
I said Ill get another job.
Oh, like theres jobs aplenty around these parts for colored folk. And anyways, if you find one, how you gonna keep that one?
Gemma had her hands on her hips, and I knew what that meant. I leaned back against the house and waited for the lecture to commence.
You talk a fine talk about colored folks needin to stand up for equality, but you aint doin it in any way thats right and good. Youre goin about town gettin peoples goat, and tryin to get in where you aint wanted, and gettin yourself all liquored up and useless. Now your family aint got the money they depend on you for, and why? Because you walk around livin like you aint got to do nothin for nobody but yourself.
Im standin up for the rights of colored folks everywhere. Malachi was angry now, pink patches spreading on his busted-up cheeks. You see anyone else in this town willin to go toe to toe with the white boys in this county?
Dont put a noble face on bein an upstart.
Malachi pushed Tals hand away and sat up tall. You call standin up to white folks bein an upstart?
Doc Pritchett tried to dress the wound on Malachis temple, but Malachi pushed his hand away again. That was when the doctor had enough, and he smacked his hands on his thighs and stood up tall and determined in front of Malachi. I aint Abraham Lincoln. Im just Doc Pritchett tryin to fix up an ornery patient, and I aint got all day to do it. So Im goin to settle this argument once and for all. He pointed at Gemma. Shes right. There aint no fightin nonsense with more nonsense, and alls youre doin by gettin in the faces of white folks with your smart attitude is bein as bad as theyre bein. Then he pointed at Malachi. And hes right, too. There aint never a change brought about that should be brought about without people standin up for such change. And sometimes that means bein willin to fight for whats right.
Gemma swallowed hard and didnt even try to argue. My eyes must have bugged out of my head at the sight of her being tamed so easily.
Now, Im all for civil uprisin, Tal continued. I dont see nothin wrong with colored folk sayin they wont be walked on no more. I dont see nothin wrong with wantin to use the same bathroom as white folks or sit in the same chairs as white folks. Way I see it, none of thats goin to change unless someone says it has to. He squatted down in front of Malachi again and stared him down nose to nose. But all this hot-shottin and show-boatin aint goin to do nothin but get your rear end kicked. Or worse. You aim to stand tall for somethin? Fine. Stand tall for it. But dont you go around thinkin these battle scars say somethin for you. You aint got them by bein noble; you got them by bein stupid. Alls these scars say is youre an idiot.
It was one of the best speeches Id heard from anyone outside my daddy, and if Id ever thought for two seconds put together to see a colored man run for governor, I figured Tal Pritchett would be the man for the job. As it was, I knew he was the best man for the job he had now. Sure enough, being a colored doc in Calloway would be a challenge. But I figured he was up for it.
Regardless, he shut Malachi up, and for the next five minutes we all watched him finish his job with skill and finesse. When hed fixed the last of Malachis face, he stood up and clapped his hands. Suppose that should do it. Dont see need for any stitchin up today. Lets hope theres no cause for it in future. Then he looked at me. You got someplace out here where I can wash up?
I held my hand out toward the front door. Bathrooms upstairs.
He hesitated. Id just as soon wash up out here.
I caught the reason for his hesitation but didnt know what to say. As usual, Gemma did.
I done lived in this here house for six years now, and Im just as brown as you. You can feel free to go on up to the bathroom, you hear?
He looked from Gemma to me, then back to Gemma before nodding. Yesm. And then he disappeared inside.
Maam, Gemma muttered under her breath. Aint old enough to be called maam, least of all by a man no moren a few years oldern me.
You know what happens once you start gettin them crows feet . . .
Gemma whirled about and gave Malachi the evil eye. Dont go thinkin I wont hurt you just because youre all bandaged up.
Noah got up and paced the porch until Tal came back outside. Doc, you have any problem gettin your schoolin?
Tal shrugged and leaned against the porch rail. No moren most, I guess. Theres a lot to learn. Why? You thinkin about goin to college?
You could have heard a pin drop on that front porch. Never, and I mean never, in all the days Calloway had been on the map, had there ever been a single person, white or black, to step foot at a college. The very idea of that mark being made by a colored boy was a surefire way to start war.
And Noah knew it.
He looked at his feet and kicked the heel of one shoe against the toe of another. Aint possible. I was just wonderin aloud, is all.
What do you mean it aint possible? Alls youve got to do is work hard. You can get scholarships and things.
But Noah took a look at his brother, whose face was hard and tight-lipped, and nodded off toward the road. Nah, there aint no use talkin over it. Wed best get home anyhow.
Tal didnt push the subject. He just picked his hat up off the porch swing and plopped it on his head. Miss Jessie. Miss Gemma. It was a fine pleasure to meet you, and a kindness for you to give us a hand.
You should stop by sometime and meet my parents, I said. Theyre off visitin, but Im sure theyd be right happy to know you.
Im sure Id be right happy to know them, too. He turned his attention to Gemma. You said you worked for a doctor?
I worked for Doc Mabley. He was a white doctor. Died some two months ago.
He let you assist?
Only with the colored patients. Doc Mabley was kind enough to help some of them out when they needed it. Otherwise I kept his records, kept up his stock.
Well, Ill tell you, Miss Gemma, I could sure use some help if youd be obliged. An assistant would be a good set of extra hands, and I could use someone known around here to make my introductions.
Gemma eyed him up before slowly nodding her head. Reckon I could.
Wouldnt be much pay, now, you know. Aint likely to get much in the way of fees from the patients Ill be treatin.
Dont matter so long as I have good work to put my hands to.
That it would be. My office is right across the street from the Jarvis house.
Malachi snorted. Shacks more like it.
Room enough for me, Tal said. Then to Gemma, You think you could stop in sometime this week to talk it over?
I can come day after tomorrow if that suits.
Nine oclock too early?
No, sir! Ive kept farm hours all my life.
He grinned at her. Nine oclock then?
Malachi watched the two of them with his swollen eyes, a look of disgust growing more evident on his face. Hed made no secret over the past year about his admiration for Gemma, and the unmistakable attraction that was growing between her and Tal was clearly turning his stomach.
Mind if we go home? he muttered. Before I fall down dead or somethin?
Gemma tore her eyes away from Tal to roll them at Malachi. Would serve you right if you did.
And on that cheery note . . . Malachi groaned on his way down the steps. Ill bid you ladies a fine evenin.
I gave Noah a playful whack to the head, but he ducked so it only clipped the top. Luke will be back home tomorrow evenin. Hell be itchin to see you, Im sure.
Im itchin to see him. He took the steps in one leap, tossing dust up when he landed. You tell him to come on by and see us real soon.
And tell him to bring his cards, Malachi added. He owes me a poker rematch.
I squinted at him suspiciously. Only if you play for beans.
I hate beans.
Malachi leaned on Tal for support and Noah scurried to catch up and help. I watched them go, but I wasnt thinking much about them. I was thinking about Luke. It had been two months since hed left to collect customers for his furniture-making business, and every day had seemed like an eternity.
The very thought of him got my stomach butterflies to fluttering, but one look at Gemma told me it was another man who had stolen her attention. That
Doc Pritchetts a fine man. I looked at her sideways with a smirk. Looks about twenty-five or so.
Good marryin age.
She crossed her arms defiantly. Jessilyn Lassiter, whats that got to do with anythin?
Only what I said. Im only statin fact.
Mm-hm. I hear ya. Youd be better off keepin your facts to yourself.
She grabbed the first aid box and headed inside, but the sound of that door slamming told me Id got to her.
It told me Tal Pritchett had got to her, too.