9 Set-in-the-South Historical Fiction Books
An Undisturbed Peace by Mary Glickman
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BUY IT: $13.87; amazon.com
We begin an Undisturbed Peace with Abe, a naïve peddler who falls in love with an Indian woman without knowing her, or even himself, very well. Because he’s white, he’s able to blend into society, but because he’s an immigrant to the U.S., and Jewish, he also sees the world as an outsider—this distance means he’s shocked and baffled by the some of the same aspects of 1830s society as the reader is, making him the ideal narrator for the wild ride through a pre-Civil War South that’s rocked by violence. When the object of Abe’s affection becomes a target of white landowners and Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act, their bond—and Abe’s belief in the new hope of America—is seriously tested.
Absalom's Daughter by Suzanne Feldman
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Absalom’s Daughters is a road trip, a treasure hunt, and a coming-of-age story about two sisters in search of their destiny. In 1950s Mississippi, half-sisters Cassie and Judith set out to claim an inheritance from their deadbeat dad. Because they can’t be honest about their bond without facing prejudice, they tell a series of lies, half-truths and evasions to keep from being found out. Author Suzanne Feldman uses their story to ask questions not just about class, poverty, race and identity—and whether or not we would erase our pasts if given the choice.
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
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Miss Jane lives a life many would pity: She’s born with a birth defect that cuts her off from having a family of her own, she’s misunderstood by people around her, and she’s often embarrassed. But Jane finds solace and communion with the natural world around her, and she sees the world from such a beautiful and fresh perspective that we can’t help but be won over by her charm. Jane’s character is inspired by author Brad Watson’s own great aunt, and his affection for her is clear and magnetic.
Minnow by James McTeer
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Minnow is a short book about the epic quest of a boy on the hunt through the swamps of South Carolina for medicine that will save his mother. Part Huck Finn, part The Wizard of Oz, and part a magic all its own, Minnow is a wonderful book with an unforgettable hero whose trek through the Lowcountry is mesmerizing and haunting.
Prayers the Devil Answers by Sharyn Mcrumb
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Any chance Ellie Robbins has at a settled life disappears when her husband, a sheriff in Depression-era Tennessee, dies—and she’s appointed in his place. At a time when women aren’t respected, she has to be strong. In a role she didn’t want or seek, she has to be fair and disciplined and make hard decisions, fighting injustice and ingrained prejudices all on her own. Prayers the Devil Answers weaves folklore and magic together with historical facts and a straight-shooting, compelling story, and Ellie is a new champion for anyone needing to face life’s unexpected circumstances with courage and grace.
Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan
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On his 18th birthday, Jonah Williams runs away from the South Carolina plantation where he’s been enslaved. He carries almost nothing with him, and the only truth he can trust is a star that he hopes will guide him out of slavery and toward a new hope. His journey is thrilling and edge-of-your-seat exciting as he tries to avoid capture—but those who would put him back in shackles aren’t the only people on his trail. Angel, herself an escaped slave, follows Jonah and expects his path to lead her to freedom; as readers, we’re left wondering if he’s up to the challenge.
Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks
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Irenie feels trapped in her marriage to Brodis, an Appalachian mountain preacher with a heavy dose of suspicion, resentment and anger that seethes below the surface of his holy man’s exterior. But in 1930s North Carolina, there isn’t much hope for a woman who wants to escape her husband, so Irenie takes her freedom where she can, sneaking out at night and wandering the mountains in her nightgown. When Brodis interprets her wandering as Satanic possession, he begins lashing out in ways that threaten not just Irenie, but anyone close to her and ultimately the entire town.
Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom
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Jamie Pyke, the son of a land owner and a slave who we first met in author Kathleen Grissom’s novel The Kitchen House, escaped his origins and established a career and a life in Philadelphia. There, he passes in white society, keeping his parentage to himself. When his closely guarded secret is challenged by love, by loyalty to a friend, and by the strength of a promise, he returns South, facing rejection and worse—the dangers of the Underground Railroad. Grissom doesn’t just continue the story of her previous novel; she also maintains the suspense and the excellent balance of story and character. Glory over Everything works as a stand-alone, but true fans will love it as a sequel to her first book, beloved by book clubs all over the South.
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell
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Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a beautiful story of friendship, of humanity triumphing above tradition, and of the power one small story of love can have in changing an entire community built on hate. Vida and Hazel have a rocky relationship. As a hired maid in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, Hazel cares for Vida, but she also resents her. Hazel lives a life of comfort, but she was raised in poverty and connects more with Vida than she does with her current circle of friends. They’ve both faced the tragedy of losing young children, and as the novel moves on, they begin to see that the stories that bring them together are stronger than those that keep them apart.