South of Everything

Written by Audrey Taylor Gonzalez
Review by Arleigh Johnson

In this whimsical tale, readers are transported to a horse farm in post-WWII Tennessee where two privileged children are being raised by a doting grandfather and the hired help. Their parents are in the picture, but are busy climbing the social ladder, playing tennis and attending the country club. Missy Sara’s young life is dominated by her friendship with the family’s colored servant, Old Thomas, and the magical tree in the back pasture that he tends. As Missy and her younger brother, Robertelee, grow up, they learn many life lessons under the Lolololo tree. Growing up within the pages, Missy’s coming of age transitions from bike riding and horses, to poodle skirts and automobiles.

From segregation to religion, and mental illness to death, Missy’s family comes through many trials—all relayed through the eyes of an awkward but honest young girl, and the wise words of Old Thomas. The mystical aspect of the story slips in quietly and weaves so smoothly into the narrative that it becomes a natural, though quirky, centerpiece. Life in a small Southern town pre-Civil Rights is a prominent theme, and beautifully simplified in Missy’s naïve, though far from narrow, view.

From the very preface of this novel there is a sense of amity with the author. The writing is exceptional and perfectly articulated for its subject matter. The ending is perhaps less than stellar and a little abrupt, but the story’s closure nonetheless—at least for this reader—happens a bit earlier in the book. Though it may be aimed at a young adult audience because of the protagonist’s age and appropriate tone, it will resonate with readers of all ages.