Growing up my life was a reflection of my parents having been children during the Great Depression. There were no credit cards or checkbooks in our home. Everything was paid for with cash, saving until the full cost of a car or home could be paid in full. Staples in our pantry were always well-stocked; the fear of running out having made a life-long impression on both of them. The stories of going without, the struggles of barely getting by, in turn and in time have directed how I live.
I learned a lot from my daddy, but the number one most important thing is this: never, ever, under any circumstances, let something get the best of you. To do this, you gotta work with what you got, play the cards you been dealt, turn lemons into lemonade. Too bad he wasn't around to see me doing just that, because one thing's for sure: when it rains in the South, it pours.
With that opening paragraph larger-than-life, gutsy, Lizzie Hawkins has become each reader's new best friend. We share her ups, which are too few and far between, and downs, one right after the other, over and over again. Before we know it the walls in our reality have slid away, replaced by her town of Bittersweet, Alabama.
Losing his job at the steel mill sapped the vim and vigor right out of Lizzie's Daddy until one morning without so much as a goodbye, he left home, leaving her Mama a small note and Lizzie her grandmother's locket. With his leaving her Mama became more and more withdrawn until she sat in the rocker on the porch or the wingback chair in the parlor all day, every day. Eleven-(soon to be twelve)-year-old Lizzie has taken up all the household and gardening chores as well as mending from townsfolk. The frightening part was it was a well-guarded secret, except from her best friend in the whole world, Ben.
Ben was as kind as Lizzie was feisty, seeing the goodness, however small, in everything and everyone. He had problems of his own, his father having passed away a short time ago. The one slight crack in an otherwise long-standing, solid friendship was a new girl in their class, Erin. Ben being Ben was more neighborly to her than Lizzie thought right. After all, Erin had done nothing since her arrival last summer, except to bully and badger Lizzie.
Not only does Erin want to make sure she gets the attention due for best grades instead of Lizzie, she wants to make sure Lizzie never has the honor again. Erin wants Lizzie gone from Bittersweet...permanently. Fear of discovery feeds Lizzie's fervor to maintain appearances at all costs.
Eccentric Mr. Reed, the elderly town recluse, the large amiable Sheriff Dawson, banker Mr. Cooper, snooty, meddling Mrs. Sawyer, Erin's mother, wise Dr. Heimler, storekeepers, Mr. and Mrs. Hinkle, their teacher, Miss Jones and Mrs. Butler, Ben's mom, all figure prominently in the twists and turns of the escalating troubles confronting Lizzie. A trap is laid. Dogged and desperate, Lizzie knows escape to, not from, is her only hope.
Laura Golden breaths life into her characters through dialogue rich in local flavor. Lizzie's conversations with each of the characters illuminates their personalities and hers, brilliant and blemished. Her journal entries, documenting events and her perceptions, help readers to see her growth, however slow it may seem at times.
Through Lizzie's voice we become acutely aware of the financial challenges facing people not only in Bittersweet, Alabama but in most of the United States during the Great Depression. Vivid descriptions of place paint a picture of the town in our minds. Chapter headings, proverbs taken from Lizzie's Mama's favorite book, provide a closer look at the atmosphere within Lizzie's own home, especially before her Daddy left. Here are several passages taken from the book displaying the attraction of Golden's writing.
Myra, along with about ten other nosy bystanders, trailed us into town. We turned off Main onto Oak Street, then onto Mr. Reed's rutted dirt drive, which led directly to his house up on the hill behind town. I didn't know about Ben, but I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. We tiptoed over the junk in the front yard---cracked mirrors, broken chairs, rusty pitchforks and hoes---and onto the sagging front porch.
"Those church ladies probably think Mama's crazy for not coming to church lately. A few of 'em came by to visit after Daddy left, to drop off a jar of jam or a batch of biscuits, but they never saw Mama. I always told 'em she was scrubbing floors or gone into town. They never seemed to doubt me. But still, when they stopped showing, their mouths likely started moving. Do you figure that's where Erin heard it?"
Ben shrugged and cleared his throat like he was gonna say something. He didn't.
"Benjamin Butler!" I yelled. "Did you hear me?"
It was times like these I'd have traded Ben for a girl in a blink. Girls live to get riled up over stuff. Boys would shake hands with the man who'd shot their dog.
He snatched up a rock and shot it into a sweet gum. A single leaf floated to the ground. "I just got a lot on my mind."
Beautifully conceived and executed, Every Day After, a labor of love, written by Laura Golden is a completely captivating work of historical fiction. Nearly consumed in a single reading, I was compelled to discover answers about the characters' questionable futures and filled with admiration for Lizzie Hawkins. This outstanding narrative will resonate with readers, the characters lives lingering and mingling with ours.
As is my custom a link to Laura Golden's website is embedded in her name above. Here are links to four interviews where Laura talks about this book and the writing process, here, here, here and here. Laura is the guest blogger at the Nerdy Book Club today.