Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree

Written by Lillah Lawson
Review by Brodie Curtis

OT and his identical twin Walt are teenage orphans under the care of their older sister in hardscrabble Georgia cotton-farming country early in the 20th century. OT’s powerful internal narrative captures their downtrodden Grapes of Wrath-like existence as he manages his “teched” twin brother’s eccentricities. One night changes everything as OT connects with the love of his life and his twin brother connects with Sivvy, who has fallen under the spell of her uncle Billy Rev, a mean-spirited traveling preacher who understands that “folks just love to be told how bad they are … Makes ‘em feel so good.”

The Depression Era hits, and OT is beset with tragedies and deprivations that are described with satisfying period detail and dialect that is authentic without being off-putting. OT undertakes a quest to unravel the mystery of Sivvy being committed to a dreadful asylum, where she had “been captured, like a lightning bug in a dusty jar, the light gone out forever.” Along the way, OT encounters a bevy of salt of the earth, memorable characters, such as Sivvy’s family from deep in the Georgia mountains. In the end, OT’s quest is a journey to find himself.

According to Ms. Lawson’s biography on her publisher’s site, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree “was written as a love-letter to her birthplace of North Georgia.” Her passion for the region and those who overcame its Depression-era challenges comes through admirably.