I receive quite a few ARCs and always have a neat selection to choose from. I was genuinely happy that I picked this one to read. Let me first say this, I was/AM a major fan of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. How I loved that book!! Now I have a new favorite coming-of-age story called Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal. Loved it!! It gave me such a home-y feel as I read. I always know when I am going to like a book and that feeling comes when I can visualize myself hanging out with the characters in the story. What made this book even more imaginable for me was the familiarity of the books setting of New Orleans. Amongst the old homes and oaks on Prytania or the mere mention of St. Charles Avenue, I could picture Ibby and Birdelia, (me tagging along) walking down the beautiful sidewalks and waiting for the streetcars or going for a shaved ice snowball. I could smell the delicious aromas of French-Creole cuisine coming from the tables and kitchen at Antoine's as Ibby and her grandmother, Fannie, dined for Ibby's birthday. The setting of Dollbaby was enchanting. I spent many years in New Orleans and had quite the love affair with this beautiful city and like Fannie, I also grew up "from around Mamou" (Opelousas) and even Ville Platte got a mention. The story that unfolds here is one that will remain a cherished book on my shelf. It does help that McNeal grew up in NOLA. That doesn't mean that I automatically loved this because it's written about my home state. Knowing the book was set in Louisiana IS what initially brought me to the title. The great writing and wonderful, creative, always-surprising storyline was the STICKING POINT. McNeal really captured the imagination of this reader but it was Ibby, Dollbaby, Queenie, Birdelia, and Fannie who stole my heart!! These are great southern fiction women personified. Liberty Bell, AKA Ibby, eventually grows into her southern roots.
The story begins in mid-1960's New Orleans. Liberty Bell is carelessly ditched at the doorstep of a paternal grandmother she has never met by a mother who is selfish, unkind, and partially blames Ibby for the unexpected death of Ibby's beloved father. Ibby is a 12-year old girl transplanted from Olympia, Washington to NOLA and a southern way of life that she has no clue about. Greeting her at the door is Dollbaby, or Doll, the 23-yr. old housemaid/sewer for Fannie, the eccentric grandmother Ibby is introduced to. Queenie is Doll's mother and the cook and I suspect that Queenie has always run the show in this house. There is no doubt that Queenie is in charge. Eventually we meet Birdelia, who is Doll's young, sassy daughter. Each will play a pivotal role in Ibby's life as she grows from a scared, unsure, lonely girl to a woman who will find her true home in the world, uncovering long buried family secrets along the way.
"Whenever there's a loss, there's bound to be a gain somewhere else.You just have
to know where to look for it."