Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith: Book Review

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Fair and Tender Ladies Book Cover
5 Stars

I’m an Appalachian mountain girl. I felt like I knew Ivy from the first sentence. She truly seemed to come to life on the pages. I came along a few generations after her time, but I felt like she could be one of my grandmothers. She talked the way I probably still talk 🙂 Education was important to her, and she was very smart, but she never really got a chance. I guess, really, I felt like I could have been reading family history. That says a lot about a novel.

Re-read June 28, 2009

There’s not all that much to add. This is a book that touches my heart and it’s hard for me to write about those.

Ivy Rowe is this book. She’s spunky, she makes mistakes, she loves, she lives, she’s stubborn, she’s wrong sometimes; in short, she just feels real to me in a way that very few characters do. Oh, I write fairly often about how I love this or that character, but Ivy feels like someone I know. The novel is written in a series of letters that Ivy writes to others. You get inside her head and stay there. You follow Ivy from the time she’s about 10 years old on. There’s a whole progression of wide-eyed optimism to teenage carelessness and invincibility to repentance to more carelessness to acceptance and reflection. I live a whole other lifetime when I read this book.

Lee Smith chose to have Ivy write in our southern Appalachian dialect and she gets it just absolutely perfect. I literally “hear” Ivy with my grandmother’s voice, and I hear the the preacher Sam Russell Sage as my uncle. Ivy’s sister Silvaney doesn’t really speak, but she reminds me of my grandmother’s sister, Sue. Do you see the connection I make to this book?

It might be a little hard to read at first because Ivy’s letters are full of childish mistakes and she spells our dialect phonetically, but don’t be put off by that. It gets better and I think you’ll understand it anyway. But for a story about a woman who makes her share of mistakes, but lives a life worth living, pick this one up. I think you’ll enjoy it. And if you happen to be from the southern Appalachians, I think you’ll feel the same strong connection I do. This book has a permanent place in my heart and soul.

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  1. It's a shame that you can't speak Tamil. My husband's dad is Cuban and his mom is American. The Cuban family made sure that he was bilingual. If we decide to have children, we want to have them be bilingual too. That part of Luis's heritage is very important to him.

    I still have my copy of Danny and the Dinosaur! Your career choices were good ones, I just couldn't resist a little teasing!

    Christy is a great book. My oldest friend was named after her! I haven't read On Viney's Mountain, but I'm going to look for it now. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Sounds like a beautiful book. I read two books set in the Appalachians that I liked: Christy by Catherine Marshall (a favorite) and On Viney's Mountain (can't remember the author) so I'd probably like this one too.

    By the way in response to your questions (I wanted to be a ballerina first and then the astronaut, and then the paleontologist). I went through a space phase after the whole Challenger thing-even though that was a tragedy I was really interested in space and the planets. Then with the paleontology thing it was because someone gave me some dinosaur erasers and I loved the book Danny and the Dinosaur. I was a little kid so my choices didn't make much sense! Your image of the ballerina looking for fossils in space was funny though.

    My first language was Tamil, the language spoken in my parents' home country. I was born here and that is the language I spoke until it was time for preschool. Someone told my parents that they should have me speak only English so I'd do better in school. The result is that I now cannot speak their language.

  3. Another great recommendation. Reading everyone's Recommend Me posts, always makes my TBR pile grow, pretty soon it will be a mountain!

  4. I love the Appalachian mountains! I lived in both Ohio & Virginia and I adore them.

    This sounds wonderful! It's always nice when you can connect with a character in a book in such a personal way. Great review!

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