Here’s my general rule regarding sequels: If you can pick it up and read it through without knowing one teeny tiny detail about the previous book (and I am including the author’s name in that statement) and still feel like it stands entirely on its own two feet, then that’s a pretty good book, mister. And "Louisiana’s Song" is a pretty good book. A soft novel. The kind of book for a certain kind of doe-eyed twelve-year-old girl, perhaps. Or maybe I’m just limiting the scope of the potential audience of this title. In "Louisiana’s Song" you’re dealing with personal loss, hardship, and disillusionment. The ending could have used a once over, but for the most part this is a strong title and one that is sure to become deeply beloved by someone out there somewhere.
All Livy Two really wants is for life to become "normal" again. Ever since her daddy got in that car accident all those months ago her life has been topsy-turvy. Mama is having difficulty getting ends to meet. Grandma Horace is always insisting that they leave their lovely mountain holler home in the North Carolina mountains to live somewhere industrial. But now it is 1963 and daddy is coming home at last! Surely everything will go back to normal now, right? Wrong. Having suffered severe head trauma from his accident, Livy Two’s daddy needs to relearn everything about his old life slowly. To Livy Two’s surprise, however, it’s her quiet sister Louise that is able to provide daddy with the help he needs and who works up the courage to sell pictures to make money for the family. Will all that be enough to overcome Grandma Horace’s campaign to get their mama a factory job and them into the city? Time will only tell.
It’s funny that the hero of Ms. Madden’s series is always Livy Two, but that the titles are always named after her siblings and not herself. It’s probably the mark of the series that the heroine’s tales always bear the name of her sibs and that she herself bears a name that serves as a constant reminder that she was not the first child named "Livy" in her family. This is a loving household, but one that gives its children certain weights to bear. At one point Livy Two’s mama explains why she willingly had so many children. It was because their father wanted a big family and to live in the beautiful outdoors. Now he’s been hurt and no money was put aside for his family in his absence. And when families are this large, it’s the older siblings who get stuck with the brunt of the responsibility. Little wonder that Livy Two’s older brother Emmett takes off the minute he thinks he can.
Madden gets the emotional quality of her story right. In fact, there are times when it feels like she’s shooting you through with one feeling or another on the sly. Livy Two’s daddy is a good example of this. When they bring him to a kind of fun park called Ghost Town to see his son, a faux gunfight breaks out. The next line reads that, "Daddy stops crying and watches the rest of the show from behind a post." We didn’t even necessarily know that he WAS crying at that point. So really, in a way this makes me feel even more sorry for him than if Madden were giving you a play-by-play of all her characters’ emotional states and actions. The same might be said for Grandma Horace. Since we’re seeing all of this from Livy Two’s perspective, we’re not supposed to sympathize with her Grandma, but it’s hard for adult readers not to see her point of view when she says, "Child, I’m sixty-one years old, and I’m surprised that this year has not put me in my grave." Her methods for getting the family to move to Buncombe County may be questionable, but you can understand why she’d want to give her grandchildren what she truly believes to be a better life. Admittedly, it was a bit precious for me at times. I’ll acknowledge that. It’s remarkably hard for an author, any author, to show sentiment without dipping into twee. For the most part Livy Two and Louise are able to give their younger siblings stories and fairy realms that feel of childish innocence. Other times it’s a bit much for me, though I suspect that child readers won’t mind a jot.
As I mentioned before, this book doesn’t require any knowledge of its preceding novel, "Gentle’s Holler". Be that as it may be, there were a couple moments where I got a bit confused. There’s someone named "Uncle Hazard", for example, who is not identified as a dog until you’re onto page 12 and the barking begins. And if you’re not a fan of series where the plot bleeds into its sequel, best that you avoid this book. I got to the end of the tale without a lot of the major plot points getting resolved and was shocked to suddenly find my nose in the Acknowledgments section. It’s an odd choice on Madden’s part, I’ll admit. "Louisiana’s Song" stands on its own right up until the end. Readers, particularly child readers, aren’t fans of books that leave them hanging so I wonder if at least one of the dangling strings could have been resolved.
There’s a class of sixth graders that comes into my library once or twice a month, and these kids have a huge range of tastes and preferences. I’d say that five or six of the girls, though, like a certain kind of book. They read "Izzy, Willy-Nilly" by Cynthia Voight, "A Corner Of The Universe" by Ann Martin, and Shug by Jenny Han. They eat these puppies up and then come to me asking, "Do you have any more of the same? Do you have anything EXACTLY like these books?" I don’t, obviously. The best that I can do is to sloooowly introduce them to the notion of historical fiction. These are kids who prefer contemporary fare, but find the right historical novel with the right characters and emotions and they go to town. So the next time I see them, I’m going to have to booktalk "Louisiana’s Song". It’ll be right up their alley. The great characters. The feelings of love and frustration between siblings. Trying to strike out on your own. For a certain kind of reader, this is a book to love.
Notes on the Cover: No sepia or dismembered girl parts, so that’s good. The book takes place in 1963 and there’s a girl wearing overalls on the cover, but we’re dealing with country people and a family where overalls would probably be the norm. So far we’re okay. Now, this appears to be an image of Louise painting on a beautifully stretched canvas, which is a bit odd. Where on earth did she get canvas from? And where are her paints? Guess they’re hidden on the other side of her there. The colors are great as is the sense of near dusk, but the downside of such a palette is that the hues are a bit washed out. I almost wish that Louise stood out more in this scene, or that the magnificent red tree behind her was a bit more in the foreground. Ah well. It certainly gives a good impression of the type of book in the reader’s hand. I think perhaps that “Gentle’s Holler” might have had the stronger cover. You can decide for yourself, though.
- Kelly Herold interviews author Kerry Madden in The Edge of the Forest.
- Cynsations interview with Kerry Madden.
- Little Willow interview with Kerry Madden.
- The author’s website (with purdy music to boot).