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Review: gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cover of gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
4 Stars

Arlene left her hometown of Possett, Alabama after she graduated from high school and never looked back. She has withstood bribery, threats, and guilt trips from hell from her Aunt Florence and remained in Chicago for ten years. But now Alabama seems to have found her. A face from Arlene's past shows up on her doorstep and at her job, asking questions that Arlene doesn't want to answer. At the same time, her boyfriend Burr, a Black man, is ready to get serious but he wants to know that she's serious too. He wants to meet her family. Her slightly racist family. To keep Burr and protect an old secret and her family, she must head back to Possett.

I have seen Joshilyn Jackson speak multiple times and I always enjoy myself hugely. She is hilarious! And she sure knows how to tell a story. I was hoping to listen to a book that she had narrated herself, but those always seem to be checked out at the library so I grabbed this one instead. Catherine Taber narrated wonderfully so I wasn't disappointed.

I've only read one other book by Ms. Jackson, Between, Georgia. I didn't care for it much. There was nothing wrong with it, exactly, it just seemed forgettable and it has been. I think I'll remember gods in Alabama for a long time.

I don't even know whether to say that I like Arlene. Her heart's in the right place but she's about as crazy as her Mama. She prides herself on never telling a lie but that's not quite the same as telling the truth, now is it? She goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid telling lies but I never knew what parts of her story to believe. With good reason.

There are only a couple of other characters that really stand out for me. Aunt Flo is a force to be reckoned with. She seems hard and almost cold but she has a big heart that she hides well. There are a lot of flashbacks centered around Jim Beverly, the high school quarterback when Arlene was in school. He's not a nice guy, to say the least, but he's not painted as purely evil either. He has kind moments, which make him believable.

The other characters were fairly minor and didn't stand out as much. I definitely liked Burr but he seemed almost too good to be true. He and Arlene would have some big fights but mostly he was the perfectly understanding boyfriend. Arlene's cousin Clarice is too sweet to believe. I liked her too but nobody's that nice all the time.

I thought I knew what was going on all along but it turns out that I didn't. That's becoming rare for me so I appreciate it when it happens! It wasn't just one thing but two! Holy smokes! I think my jaw just dropped when I finally saw the whole picture.

I enjoyed listening to the audio but I kind of wish I had a print copy in front of me. The first sentence is awesome. It starts, "There are gods in Alabama" and goes on to list football quarterbacks and Jack Daniels and other things like that. It's a refrain that repeats throughout the book and I loved it.

For a story about family and roots with a firm sense of place and a surprising mystery at its heart, I highly recommend this one.

Read an excerpt.

Find author Joshilyn Jackson on her website, her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Read my 3.5-star review of Between, Georgia.

Buy gods in Alabama at

Southern Literature Reading Challenge hosted at The Introverted Reader

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop's, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. My opinions are completely my own.

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