by Lis Anna-Langston
Coming from a very dysfunctional childhood, at 52 both my parents and my brothers are now gone and I find myself drawn to novels which deal with childhoods filled with hardship. If I was Oprah or Dr. Phil I’d probably say I’m using fictional works to help myself reflect on my past and mourn the imperfect world in which I lived until marriage. Whatever the reason, I can definitely say that when I find a gem like “Tupelo Honey” and when the tears fall over that character, I feel a cleansing of my own pain. And it is good.
Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, author Lis Anna-Langston has penned a story which is touching and insightful. Main character Tupelo Honey is an 11 year old with an absentee junkie-mom, a loving grandma called Marmalade and slightly ‘off’ uncle Randall. She is a smart, savvy child who faces more challenges at her young age than most will see in a lifetime. As all of us do, Tupelo Honey craves a feeling of being wanted. Loved. This is a need which is supposed to be lavished on us as youngster by our parents, but never knowing her dad and a mom not interested in parenting leaves a void in her young life.
Interestingly, mom introduces a boyfriend into the picture who ends up being a blessing. Nash, a low level drug dealer initially made my own mom-hairs on the arm rise, but Anna-Langston uses him to show normalcy and love the way a parent should behave. I enjoyed this unexpected character twist and appreciated the fact that the author shows the reader appearances can be deceiving.
My other favorite thing about this novel is the feeling of nostalgia it offers. I found myself smiling at my own childhood fondness for bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise. Our world of gluten free ancient grain whole wheat bread with organic mustard and sprouts is just not the same as Wonder Bread and Kraft Mayo. Anna-Langston does not punch us in the face with the fact this is set in the 70s, but there are enough mentions to bring that time period to life.
This is a can’t-put-it-down page turner. Despite my feelings of guilt that the author likely spent thousands of hours writing, and I’m whipping through it like a tornado, I read this in two days. And my emo was high through most of it. I cannot praise enough a book which makes the reader feel all range of emotions – sadness, laughter, joy, relief…. To be completely honest it took three days to finish the book. I had just 20 or so pages left to go at 2am, but I forced myself to stop. I knew my heart needed to see the end during the light of day and not while I laid awake processing the ache of this character.
I don’t keep every book I read because I don’t have shelf space and I won’t waste precious reading time going back to re-read something which was not wonderful. “Tupelo Honey” gets my highest recommendation when I tell you this one sits in pride of place on my bookshelf to be picked up again and again in the years to come.