2014 · 5 stars · fiction

GoodReads Recs: Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli
Pub. Date: March, 2012
Source: Library (though we have the gorgeous paperback at work and I think it’s calling my name!)
Summary: October 1941. Eleven-year-old Ella McGee sits on a bus bound for her Southern hometown. Behind her in Washington, D.C., lie the broken pieces of her parents’ love story—a black father drafted, an activist mother of Scotch-Irish and Cherokee descent confronting racist thugs. But Ella’s journey is just beginning when she reaches Hopewell County, and her disappearance into the Georgia mountains will unfurl a rich tapestry of family secrets spanning a century. Told in five unforgettable voices, Glow reaches back through the generations, from the red-clay dust of the Great Depression to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, where slave plantations adjoin the haunted glades of a razed Cherokee Nation. Out of these characters’ lives evolves a drama that is at once intimately human and majestic in its power to call upon the great themes of our time—race, identity, and the bonds of family and community.
Genre: Fiction, Southern, Family Saga
Recommended for: fans of sweeping epics, family histories, the American South, readers who loved Steal the North

Last week I started a new feature called GoodReads Recommends where I take a look at the books the site suggests based on other books I’ve read. One of the books mentioned was Glow and it sounded so fantastic, I immediately requested it from my library and bumped it to the very top of my stack. I started reading the moment I got my copy and I’m absolutely thrilled to say it did not disappoint!

Told in multiple voices, Glow tells an incredible tale of a family and spans over a century from a plantation in the 1830s to a Southern town in the throes of racial tension on the cusp of World War II. Although the story opens in a very sweet way with Amelia and her daughter, it soon turns frightening with an act of violence (while Amelia is White and Cherokee, the man she loves is African-American) and it’s that fear that has Amelia packing her daughter’s belongings and sending her off to her brother in their hometown. But Ella doesn’t show up when Buddy comes to collect her and it’s then we learn about this remarkable family from the very beginning.

Glow is one of those novels that’s SO difficult for me to review. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but I also want to say all the things. This is a beautiful, lovely, wonderful, haunting, heartbreaking novel and I delighted in every word. Every single character shines – from the good to the vile – and the voices were so strong. I had no trouble differentiating between the narrators (though I suppose it helped each chapter was labeled with a name ha!), and I adore any and all jumps in time.

Race is a huge theme in this book and it brought to mind Steal the North, one of my top reads this year. A comparison to that novel is NOT one I make lightly, but while reading, I couldn’t get StN’s characters and story out of my head. No, the plots aren’t similar at all, but the Big Pictures are: religion, race, humanity. Glow met each one head-on and wasn’t afraid to pull back the curtain to tell it like it is. Many atrocities are committed in the name of hate, but Glow shows that love is just as powerful, that one single emotion can be so strong (whether it’s for a child, a parent, a spouse) that it can move mountains and that faith is a force to be reckoned with. Life isn’t clean-cut or fair, but good does prevail and actions are held accountable.

It’s rare that in a novel with multiple narrators I don’t favor one voice over the rest, but here, each one held her own story and brought something to the book the others didn’t. These characters are all connected, either by blood or marriage, and their stories wove together beautifully. I feel as though I keep repeating myself, but Glow is just that good. It’s powerful and raw and it hurt something fierce when I was done. I wanted to race to the end, but the minute I reached that final page, those last words, I wasn’t ready to let go. I wanted more from these characters. I wanted to watch Ella grow just as I got to see Amelia and Willie Mae become women. I wanted to see what the future held for George and if Lovelady ever found peace. The excitement of the biplane, the stark horror of witnessing prominent men in the town come together and hang a man, hanging onto the hope that there will be one more letter from a soldier gone off to fight. Every emotion I felt was real and vibrant. Tuccelli did a fantastic amount of research and it shows.

Glow is the kind of novel I want to shout about, the kind of novel I want to shove into the hands of complete and total strangers. I’m floored that it’s a debut (again, just like Steal the North!) and I’m a tiny bit angry with myself for not discovering it sooner. This is a book written for me. A family deep-rooted in the South, heavy-hitting themes tackled respectfully but without sugar-coating anything, a well of faith, and just a hint of magic. Glow is a phenomenal novel that left me breathless. Not only will I be itching for whatever Tuccelli happens to write next, but you can bet I’ll be pushing this novel on whoever gets within shouting distance! Do yourself a favor, guys. Read this book.

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