Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Last House on the Street

  The Last House on the Street
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2021. 352 pages.
ISBN:  125026796X / 978-1250267962

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I'm in the middle of a call with a contractor when Natalie, our new administrative assistant pokes her head into my office."

Favorite Quote:  "You've led sort of a protected life, you know? The world out there ain't as kind as you seem to think it is."

The small wealthy town of Round Hill in Derby County, North Carolina. A history of racial divides and and the never-ending work to encourage voters of color. A beautiful, young power couple building their dream home. An accident. A death. A piece of land said to be haunted. 1960s in the South. 2010.

What haunts the land? Is it supernatural ghouls or secrets of a small town some would rather keep hidden? What happened all those years ago that still casts a shadow on the present? What will happen next?

In the 1960s is young Ellie Hockley. Born and raised to be a proper Southern belle, Ellie has other ideas and ideals. The fight for civil rights and voter registration for voters of color is not a popular one in Ellie's neighborhood. She earns her family's ire, and her family feels the judgement of friends and neighbors. Decades later, Ellie finds herself home again.

In 2010, Kayla and her husband Jackson design and build their dream house - their forever home. It is, in fact, the last house on a quiet neighborhood street on a lovely, large wooded lot. Kayla and Jackson are architects and pour their hearts into their own design. Unfortunately, Jackson dies in an on-site accident. The dream turns into Kayla's nightmare. Nevertheless, Kayla moves ahead and moves into the house despite the tragedy and despite the warnings to stay away and leave the land be.

The story builds around the racial divide in the South and the specific history of the The Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) Project. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led a voter registration civil rights initiative, recruiting white college students to help prepare African Americans for voting and to continue to lobby Congress to pass what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It is interesting that both main characters in the book are white women. It is through their eyes that the reader sees this history. To me, the book works even without the voice of a person of color to depict this history. I see the history identified in the story, go off and read some nonfiction articles about the history, and then come back to the story with a better understanding of its context. Going in, I did not expect the history lesson I got. 

For me, the book works because Ellie and Kayla work as characters. Their stories are told in parallel, the heartbreaking connection only coming together at the end. However, both their stories are stories of shocking and sudden loss; so, perhaps, there is some similarity. The ending is at the same time shocking and predictable given the history of our nation. It once again leaves me thinking of the divisions we create based on race and the atrocities that leads to.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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