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The 52 Book Club's Reading Challenge 2022

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Sweeping Southern Mystery Begs to Be Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Hendrix, a tiny backwater town in northern Florida, holds its share of secrets.  And more.  Jolie's heard the whispers and rumors all her life.  She's a Hoyt, after all, and thus aware of her family's sometimes unsavory history, if not privy to the details.  As tight-lipped as the rest of her kin, 18-year-old Jolie knows better than to go blabbing about skeletons in the Hoyt Family closets.  Then, Sam Lense comes along.  A Jewish graduate student from Miami, the 24-year-old is, without a doubt, the most exotic person ever to stroll down the streets of Hendrix.  It's not long before Jolie and Sam are getting cozy in Sam's cramped RV, not long before she's introducing him to the relatives, only a wee bit longer before he's getting a little too close to secrets the Hoyts would just as soon keep buried.  Forever.

Twelve years after Sam leaves Hendrix, vowing never to return, a black businessman comes to town, stirring up the kind of trouble Sam never could leave well enough alone.  Before he knows it, he's back in Hendrix.  He's older, wiser, but still vulnerable to the town's peculiar brand of magic.  Jolie's not keen on having a bunch of outsiders sticking their noses where they don't belong, especially since it's her family that's under investigation.  Still, in spite of herself, Jolie finds that she needs to know the truth behind one of the biggest, ugliest, most notorious events in the history of the Hoyt family.  Even if it gets all of them killed.  And it just might.

Although American Ghost (available October 9, 2012) by Janis Owens is many things, the adjective that comes to mind most readily is atmospheric.  All good Southern novels are, of course, and usually charmingly so.  This one?  Not so much.  Its Southern folk are quirky, alright, as is their one-horse town, but in a way that's more sinister than sweet.  Hendrix, as Owens makes perfectly clear, is not the kind of place you want to live in or visit or even pass through.  Which, of course, makes it the perfect setting for a tense, haunting story like American Ghost.  The really weird thing is, the more time you spend in Hendrix, the more it seduces you, too.  Because, despite its scabbed-over appearance, the town just might become a place where two misfits can find truth, redemption and maybe—despite insurmountable odds—their own kind of happily ever after.  Engrossing and memorable, American Ghost is one of those books that just begs to be read.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me a little of Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell and a bit of A Time to Kill by John Grisham)

Grade:  B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, sexual content and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of American Ghost from the generous folks at Scribner (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) via ELLE magazine's Reader's Jury program.  Thank you!  
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