Georgia in 1906 is not a good place for Anna Benson and Nessie Jameson to be best friends, for Nessie is black, and Anna is white. The children are gently separated during a party by Grandma Addy, who tells Anna that, when she’s older she will understand what’s proper. Despite Addy’s admonitions, she lets the girls play undisturbed on the family’s farm, and clean out an old shed for a puppet theater
Nine years later, Anna and Nessie still meet at their secret room, and have turned their skills to making dolls for sale. For Anna, what’s proper is stifling, and Nessie is subjected to entrenched racism, but both young women are saving their money for nursing school. Anna’s father forbids her, for no proper lady would become a nurse. Anna sneaks off with Nessie to look at boarding houses, only to hear that “your Negro” must sleep in the barn. Nessie is more accustomed to Jim Crow laws, and when she comforts Anna, they discover that their affection has ripened into love.
Tangled Roots is a sensitive exploration of forbidden love in repressive times: black and white, and physical love between women. It’s a prequel, and while I felt like I was missing something in the Benson family relationships, the story stands alone, and the love Nessie and Anna bear for each other rings true.