New Orleans in 1964 was still steeped in traditions, but all of that was about to change.

And for Liberty (Ibby) Bell, a twelve-year-old girl from Olympia, Washington, it was the time when her mother dropped her off, literally, on her grandmother’s doorstep.

A short time before, Ibby’s father Graham had died after a freak accident, and now her mother Vidrine had just told her she was here to visit her grandmother Fannie.

But all Ibby can remember about her grandmother, whom she had never met, was how much her mother hated her. So why was she leaving her there?

We follow Ibby’s sojourn in this unfamiliar Southern world, at the same time that the country is changing to accommodate the new Civil Rights Act. Sit-ins, protests, and racial tensions would be commonplace for the next few years, along with the Vietnam War. But in Fannie Bell’s household, tradition still reigns, and her home is run by her black household helpers, Queenie and Doll (also called Dollbaby), who are like a part of the family. Their delightful and warm personalities and the way they enfold Ibby as if she were one of their own made me feel right at home with them, too.

Dollbaby: A Novel is a story that wraps itself around the reader, revealing the historic moments in the life of a family that unfold much as the country’s historic moments have done. It spans almost a decade, from 1964 to 1972, but we also are gifted with moments from the past, revealing much about Fannie and the life she led before she became a mother and grandmother. Secrets, betrayals, violence, and the unconditional love that Ibby learns to accept as her due, are part of her heritage, even as her life follows a path dictated by her grandmother. Learning her grandmother’s secrets was also a gradual process, and this story made me laugh, cry, and remember how much history each family contains. Unforgettable story. 4.0 stars.


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