Jessica Maria Tuccelli’s debut novel “Glow” is a joy to read. I’d highly recommend it, and invite you all to participate in a giveaway sponsored by the publisher. Just leave a comment to enter. I’ll draw the winner out of a hat on May 31. Please include your e-mail address so that I can contact you if you win.
And now, for my review…
“Glow” is a historical novel set in the American South. The story centers around a little girl named Ella McGee. Her father is black and her mother, a civil rights activist, is Cherokee. When Ella’s mother is threatened before a protest, she puts Ella on a bus back to her own hometown in Georgia, hoping to keep her safe.
While Ella’s story forms the basic framework of the novel, Ella herself doesn’t appear very much. Instead, Tuccelli tells the story of several generations of Ella’s family, ranging in setting from mountain cabins to plantations. Through each story, Tuccelli weaves a compelling commentary on race relations and sacrifices made to protect one’s family.
Having so many protagonists in a book of this length should have turned out very badly, but Tuccelli pulled it off masterfully. Each character’s story is well developed, and watching the relationships between them intertwine gave this book a layer of depth and complexity that I hadn’t expected. Each character is memorable and unique. There is the story of Riddle Young, a Cherokee man who had a son, Alger, with a neighbor’s slave, whom he loved, only to realize that the child would be born into slavery. Riddle spends years indentured as an overseer in order to convince the plantation owner to let him buy his son’s freedom. Meanwhile Alger falls in love with Willie Mae, who can see ghosts and spirits. Then there’s Mia, Ella’s mother, as she realizes for the first time as a child that people hate her because of her race. Mia is such a strong character, and yet we see her desperate worry as she realizes that fighting for her rights places both her own life and that of her daughter in danger.
Each generation in Tuccelli’s story struggles with its own crises, and her characters do everything they can to overcome the obstacles that they face in life. There is violence, and bad things happen to good people, but at the same time the overall tone is one of hope.
Oh, and did I mention that there’s a ghost story?
The spiritual and paranormal elements in “Glow” enhance the story, but don’t take anything away from the central message. Tuccelli’s style reminds me of Isabelle Allende’s magical realism. There are ghosts, but their presence in the story is subtle, and the overall focus is on creating snapshots of race relations throughout a family’s history over the course of several generations.
If you enjoyed “The Secret Life of Bees,” “The Help,” or anything by Isabel Allende, then you’ll probably love “Glow” as well. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to share it with you.