Southern literature has a sense of place and history, but it's also known for its wonderful storytelling, beautiful imagery, and emphasis on a slew of uncomfortable themes (think race, class, and religion). These modern novels continue in the tradition of the Southern greats.
Charleston, November 1803. Sarah Grimké turns 11. Her birthday gift? A slave named Hetty ("Handful"). This sweeping novel tells the story—in alternating voices—of real-life abolitionist Sarah Grimké and the wholly imagined slave Handful through several decades and up and down the East Coast during a tumultuous time in American history. A can’t miss for fans of The Help or Monk Kidd’s first hit, The Secret Life of Bees. An engaging mix of fact and fiction. More info →
What happens when we get the thing we desire most in life—only to find that it might destroy us? That's the question Margaret faces at the opening of Evensong. This tale, set in the mountains of North Carolina, faithfully examines marriage and vocation and calling through the eyes of Margaret, a thirtysomething Episcopal priest, who is forced to finally confront matters when three unexpected and—let's face it—unwelcome guests arrive in her sleepy North Carolina mountain town of High Balsam. This book, first published in 1999, has the fingerprints of the millennium all over it. If you love it, go back and read its predecessor, Father Melancholy's Daughter. More info →
This oddly structured pageturner from Nashvillian Ann Patchett fuses opera and a hostage crisis–and surprisingly, it works. Japanese businessman and opera buff Katsumi Hosokawa is celebrating his birthday in an unnamed South American country, in the company of diplomats, government officials, and businessman. Mr. Hosokawa knows he's being shaken down for a large donation, but he can't resist attending, because the South Americans have secured a performance by legendary soprano Roxanne Coss. The country's president is unable to attend (he's much too interested in what happens on his favorite soap opera on Tuesday nights), and his fixation spares him from being taken hostage when the militant group La Familia storms the gathering. Intriguing, highly readable, and loosely based on a true story. More info →
Center's novels read as easy as the fluffiest chick lit, but they run surprisingly deep, and are emotionally wise. Libby is attempting to rebuild her life, and that of her two kids, after her husband died in a car crash two years ago. But she's finally had enough of living with her crazy mother, and moves out to the Texas hill country to try out a new life on her crazy Aunt Jean's goat farm. This short and easy read has a familiar arc: girl in a mess, girl sees the light, girl finds happiness, yet its themes of family, forgiveness, and redemption make it worth your while. Recommended reading for Brené Brown fans. More info →
Skip the publisher's description on this one: you'll enjoy it more if you come to it without expectations. But I will say this: Emmalee Bullard is a young, unwed mother who is all alone in the world, and has suffered one hard knock after another. Just when she thinks she's found a way out, something tragic happens, dashing Emmalee's hopes—possibly forever. This story about the the resilience of women and female friendship is moving, heartwarming, and Southern to its core. For fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Sue Monk Kidd. More info →