I’m a huge fan of Southern fiction, especially historical fiction. So, you can imagine my surprise when I disliked everyone’s favorite novel, Where the Crawdads Sing. Since finishing Crawdads I’ve been on the lookout for a historical fiction with similar themes that I could recommend. Well, thanks to @bookmarked I’ve finally found a book I can recommend that I loved! The Last Carolina Girl by Meagan Church is a moving novel that I couldn’t put down! Find out why in my review below.
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The Last Carolina Girl at a Glance
-Published March 28, 2023
-Southern historical fiction
For fourteen-year-old Leah Payne, life in her beloved coastal Carolina town is as simple as it is free. Devoted to her lumberjack father and running through the wilds where the forest meets the shore, Leah’s country life is as natural as the Loblolly pines that rise to greet the Southern sky.
When an accident takes her father’s life, Leah is wrenched from her small community and cast into a family of strangers with a terrible secret. Separated from her only home, Leah is kept apart from the family and forced to act as a helpmate for the well-to-do household. When a moment of violence and prejudice thrusts Leah into the center of the state’s shameful darkness, she must fight for her own future against a world that doesn’t always value the wild spirit of a Carolina girl.
Set in 1935 against the very real backdrop of a recently formed state eugenics board, The Last Carolina Girl is a powerful and heart-wrenching story of fierce strength, forgotten history, autonomy, and the places and people we ultimately call home.
I’m one of the rare folks who didn’t love Where the Crawdads Sing. It was fine, but not spectacular in my opinion. Needless to say, I was on the fence about this book when I read the synopsis and saw it compared to Crawdads. Luckily, I found this book much more enjoyable! The main character, Leah, was much more relatable as a character, and her story arc was more believable than Kya’s. At no point did I roll my eyes and consider skipping ahead, which is exactly how I reacted to Crawdads. Sure, there are some similar themes, but honestly, the comparison should stop at Southern historical fiction about a young orphan.
The Last Carolina Girl is a heartbreaker of a story, with plenty of pain and grief to soften even the hardest of hearts. The loss this character experiences is palpable; you truly feel her pain throughout the entire story. I was riveted by the dynamics in this book and often found myself feeling strongly about what was happening to Leah at the hands of her foster family.
As coming-of-age novels go, there are none better than those that incorporate chosen family. The love that Leah finds in her chosen family put a smile on my face, especially knowing how much she was made to sacrifice at the hands of the monsters in her life. The author’s ability to transport the reader to the world of Leah both before and after the loss of her father is remarkable; I was completely sucked into this novel from word go. Overall, I think any lover of Southern fiction, particularly historical fiction, will find this story moving and a worthwhile read.
Rating for The Last Carolina Girl
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