Friday, March 23, 2012

Whitney Finalist: With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo

Today I'm going to spotlight With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo.

When I read the title, I immediately thought, "Romance," but I ended up being surprised. This is a story about growing up, wrapped in a murder mystery, wrapped in a historical. So, why the title?

First, this book is all about love and it's many faces. It's about love in a family, in a community, between friends, and yes there's a bit of innocent crush going on, too. This isn't an in-your-face type of theme. In fact, I didn't really catch on to it until I'd finished the entire book. It was cleverly woven into the events of the story.

Second, the main character's last name is Love.

This is a character-driven story, but Tess also worked in the time period so well it felt natural. I guess that would be my main point in this spotlight, the story just felt natural.

I would introduce the characters and setting, but Tess does it so well in the first few paragraphs:
It was the eighth of July, 1957, when Ollie's daddy slowed their rusted-out Chevy pickup near the junction of Highway 29 and Carter Road. They had come to set up for a three-day revival. Ollie sat in the truck bed with her sisters. She was thirteen and the oldest of Reverend Love's five daughters, followed by Martha, Gwen, Camille, and Ellen. Ellen was at Ollie's side, clutching Baby Doll Sue and singing "Mama's Little Baby." Ollie noticed her sister was getting the words twisted up and wrong--again.
It may have been only nine o'clock in the morning, but the summer sun was already high in the sky and sweating up the land. Fields of soft green barley laid themselves out across the earth in perfect rows--as if God had reached down and combed them just so. Ollie noticed a carved-up plank of wood that someone long ago had shoved into the dark Southern soil. It read: Binder, Arkansas.
Want to read some more? Go ahead, I'll wait.

Tess was so kind to tell me some of her personal feelings about the story.
I wanted to tell the story of characters who were in a broken situation, but who didn't consider themselves broken people. I love Jimmy and how, even though he has been terribly mistreated, he still has a deep river of conviction about who he is and what he can someday become. I love Ollie because she sees a boy who needs a friend and lets nothing stop her from being that person.

I grew up in a somewhat tough situation. It wasn't as bad as Jimmy's, but it was really difficult at times and, in spite of the chaos that surrounded me, I believed in myself. That was what got me through. So, when I started writing, I wanted to share that part of my personal experience on some level and I guess With a Name Like Love is that story. It celebrates family. It celebrates friendship. It shows us that we can overcome trials. It is really a piece of my heart.
I enjoyed this story, and couldn't believe this was a debut novel. There were so many layers to it, and it was put together well and felt natural. I suggest you get your own copy and see for yourself.

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