Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Review: Shadows of Pecan Hollow

Shadows of Pecan Hollow Shadows of Pecan Hollow by Caroline Frost
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was 1970 when thirteen-year-old runaway Kit Walker was abducted by Manny Romero, a smooth-talking, low-level criminal, who first coddled her and then groomed her into his partner-in-crime. Before long, Kit and Manny were infamous for their string of gas station robberies throughout Texas, making a name for themselves as the Texaco Twosome.

Twenty years after they meet, Kit has scraped together a life for herself and her daughter amongst the pecan trees and muddy creeks of the town of Pecan Hollow, far from Manny. But when he shows up at her doorstep a new man, fresh out of prison, Kit is forced to reckon with the shadows of her past, and her community is sent into a tailspin. 

This gritty, penetrating, and unexpectedly tender novel ensnares the reader in its story of resilience and bonds that define us. With its rich rural landscape, indelible characters, and striking regional language, Shadows of Pecan Hollow is a hauntingly intimate and distinctly original debut about the complexity of love—both romantic and familial—and the strength and vulnerability of womanhood. 

Gritty, it is. A little bit of Lolita and quite a bit disturbing. Not my favorite book but well written.

Review: We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys

We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys by Erin Kimmerle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author of this book began this journey accidentally. As a forensic anthropologist she was called upon to verify 31 graves at an old reform school cemetery. What she discovered was a poorly kept burial spot for the children that died on the campus. As she dug deeper (figuratively speaking and, later, literally), she was approached by some of the survivors of the Arthur Dozier School. Buried in secrecy and shame, the school housed "juvenile delinquents" from ages 5 and up who were imprisoned for minor or no infractions and leased out as slave labor by day, and brutally abused and murdered by night. She uncovered horrific stories which are not clearly shared and attributed for privacy issues but enough is shared that the reader's stomach will turn. 

Using fascinating technology, Kimmerle maps out part of the land and discovers anomolies that indicate 55 graves instead of 31 that were previously marked. The secrets are vast and not all told nor uncovered, but what Kimmerle found were the grown boys of the "White House," a building painted white where unspeakable brutality occurred; beatings with a leather strap, up to 135 lashes by "The One Armed Man," rapes, and murders. The boys were in their late 60's and older and deeply haunted by their time at the school, struggling with mental health issues for the rest of their lives. Additionally, many families never knew what became of their sons and brothers when they didn't come home. The semi-cemetery gave some of them answers.

What the author uncovered was a small town in Florida that did not want the secrets to be told. The school employed their fathers, grandfathers, and uncles who went home every night to their wives and children. They didn't want to know about the systemic racism or the cruel treatment meted out within the walls of the school and the fields in the surrounding areas. 

The author brings some measure of closure to many of those impacted by the abuses at the school and shines a light on the historical (some are not in the distant history) mistreatment and inequality of the juvenile justice system in Florida. For the sake of brevity and readability, the detail on the lives of the boys is limited as is the story of abuse and death. Kimmerle is a scientist and carefully explains the way she went about identifying the unmarked graves, unearthing them, and identifying them where possible. It's heavier on the science side but the connections formed by her work are a clear by-product that impacted the author and the survivors lives for the better.