Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

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Whenever there’s a loss, there’s bound to be a gain somewhere else

A debut novel by Laura Lane McNeal, Dollbaby introduces readers to some of the most sparkling, eccentric, and entertaining literary voices that contemporary southern fiction has to offer.  The story takes place in New Orleans in the 1960s and follows Liberty “Ibby” Bell as she begins a new life in the South with her grandmother, Miss Fannie Bell.  Before her father died, 12 year-old Ibby had barely heard of her southern grandmother, but just a few days after his funeral, Ibby’s neglectful mother leaves her young daughter in Fannie’s care indefinitely.

Scared, confused, and lonely, Ibby finds that New Orleans is more than just a culture shock.  In fact, it’s full of curious customs, strange food, and a never-ending heat wave.  But even more strange is Ibby’s eccentric and wealthy grandmother.  Before Ibby came along, Fannie lived alone in her grand southern mansion attended by 2 black housekeepers – Queenie, and her daughter Dollbaby.  Having grown up in Washington state, Ibby is quite confused by such an arrangement, but Queenie and Dollbaby treat her like family and help Ibby understand the mysterious ways of the south – and more specifically, the mysterious ways of Fannie Bell.

Prone to spells of anxiety and depression, Fannie has a reputation in her neighborhood for being a bit “teched in the head.”  But as Ibby grows into a teenager, she realizes that her grandmother is more than just an eccentric – she is a woman with a painful and secretive past who has endured countless events of heartbreak and devastation.  Of course, many secrets of Fannie’s past remain forever hidden, but with the help of Dollbaby and Queenie, Ibby slowly learns how to navigate her family, her past, and her new surroundings.

Set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement, Dollbaby is a richly layered, bittersweet tale of what it truly means to be a family – and all the joy, grief, celebration, and disappointment that come along with it.  With the wit and charm of Fannie Flagg and the consciousness of The Help, Dollbaby establishes Laura Lane McNeal as a fabulous debutante of fiction and a loyal southerner.  Native to New Orleans, McNeal paints a colorful and vibrant picture of a city with strong roots of culture, endurance, and forgiveness.


Dollbaby ★★★★½
Dollbaby
By Laura Lane McNeal
Penguin
2014
Hardcover
352 Pages
ISBN 9780670014736
$26.95

 

About Karli Cude

Karli Cude, previous moderator of Hooked Bookworm, is an avid reader and former bookseller. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in English Literature in 2010 and completed a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences in 2013.