In the autumn of 1941, Amelia J. McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, and an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP, hastily sends her daughter, Ella, alone on a bus home to Georgia in the middle of the night—a desperate measure that proves calamitous when the child encounters two drifters and is left for dead on the side of the road.
Ella awakens in the homestead of Willie Mae Cotton, a wise root doctor and former slave, and her partner, Mary-Mary Freeborn, tucked deep in the Takatoka Forest. As Ella heals, the secrets of her lineage are revealed.
Shot through with Cherokee lore and hoodoo conjuring, Glow transports us from Washington, D.C., on the brink of World War II to the Blue Ridge frontier of 1836, from the parlors of antebellum manses to the plantation kitchens where girls are raised by women who stand in as mothers. As the land with all its promise and turmoil passes from one generation to the next, Ella's ancestral home turns from safe haven to mayhem and back again.
My thoughts: Although a little complex with the multiple time periods and narratives, Glow is an engrossing novel which convincingly captures the essence of the time period, especially the parts taking place in Hopewell County, GA during the mid-1800's. While the novel touches on the forced removal of the Cherokee from Georgia and also slavery in the county, the focal point of the story is the family connections which are related by a fascinating and varied cast of characters.
"No matter what trouble he stirs up, what law he breaks, Obidiah Bounds will always be her cool sip of hyssop nectar on a sunny day."
This quote opens the novel which starts off in October of 1941 with an adult Amelia McGee putting her daughter Ella on a bus to her brother Buddy in the middle of the night after the arrest of her draft dodging husband Obadiah and the receipt of threats for her work with the NAACP. Things do not go as planned and Ella encounters trouble with two unsavory characters who leave her badly injured. Fortunately she is found by Willie Mae Cotton and Mary-Mary Freeborn-two old former slaves who take her to their cottage in the mountains to nurse her back to health. Here the story shifts back and forth between Ella and her saviors in the 1940's to her mother Amelia's childhood growing up in those same mountains. As the novel continues on we are led into Willie Mae's story and through her comes the connection to Riddle Young and Solomon Bounds who also feature prominently in the story. Glow also has a bit of a supernatural bent featuring ghosts or "haints" and hoodoo magic woven throughout the tale.
The writing here is wonderful and really sucked me in. There were a few things that did make reading a little difficult though. The biggest issue is that while the stories of each of the characters are connected, there is nothing to ease you from the narrative of one character into the narrative of another. A section will deal with Ella, then her mother as an adult, then Ella again, then Ella's mother as a girl and then it moves onto Willie Mae's story. Because the book is written in this manner the family tree in the beginning is essential to being able to follow the book fully and I found myself referring to it often. The good thing is that I found myself liking each character and their story arc so well that I started not to mind this eventually. it did prove distracting at first though and if I didn't have to keep pulling myself out of the story to refer to the family tree I probably would have given this book a 4/5. As the accounts of Willie Mae, and the McGee, Young, and Bounds families unwind the reader eventually begins to see the connection between them. Interspersed throughout Glow are US Census instructions for the different eras covered in the book which was a unique way to illustrate the view of the different races for the time period being written about. I have always been a big fan of family sagas and historical fiction set in the US and I really enjoyed this debut by Ms. Tuccelli. I was entertained from the moment I started reading of Ella's encounter with the drifters, through the multiple lives of the other characters, and all the way to the end when we finally find out what happens with Ella. I will definitely be checking out her work in the future.