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Praying For Sheetrock

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  761 ratings  ·  121 reviews
Set in McIntosh County, Georgia, in the 1970s, this is the true story of the political awakening of a tiny black community, and of the downfall of a flamboyant white sheriff and his gang. It is also the story of the rise of Thurnell Aston, a disabled black boilermaker who decided to fight back, of his triumph and of his tragic downfall.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 16th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1991)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,678)
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Anne Broyles
I have no memory of who recommended this book, but I would never have happened to choose it off a library shelf. It looks old, and gives no clue of the quality of writing inside. Greene tells the story of a poor, coastal town in Georgia in the 1970's, where despite the Civil Rights movement, one white sheriff holds sway over black and white citizens alike. Greene's fine grasp of description and dialogue read like a novel much of the time as, with the help of young Georgia Legal Services lawyers, ...more
Sep 05, 2009 Graceann rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Shelves: georgia-history
Coastal Georgia is a frequent destination for me. Whenever I have to be away from it, I am planning the next time I'll be able to smell the marsh, feel the sand in my shoes and hear the musical voices of the residents. I have been to Darien many, many times, but my first visit was in 1994, long after the initial events in this book took place. Reading PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK was educational, to say the least. What Melissa Fay Greene does in her narrative is show you the different Dariens - the bla ...more
My parents recommended this book to me, which usually means I'll like it in a tepid sort of way.

This didn't fall into that pattern.

This book is really good. Really something. I don't want to say important, because what do I know (besides that if I say it's important you'll say I'm pretentious). But it's impressively evocative, not just telling a story of a place I've never heard about, but painting a picture so clearly that I can taste the sounds. That's right, chilluns, I get synaesthesia fro
Melissa Faye Green builds masterful story structures -- even when the story is sprawling and almost impossible to corral. This book is so thoroughly reported and researched, I can’t discern the point in the story at which the author began to witness the events. Toward the end of the story, a few small details led me to believe that she had entered the story quite late, something I found astounding. Melissa Fay Greene, of course, ignores – couldn’t care less about – the conventions of creative no ...more
This is quite the endeavor. The book is very wordy and full of narrative building up the character and environment in which involved the 50's - early 80's in McIntosh County, Georgia. I only give it three stars because it was tough to page through. You are always wondering how it is going to end but only because you are wondering how the multiple stories are going to fall into place to influence the main character. It is a true historical presentation of this part of Georgia but reading it I som ...more
Greg Miller
Apr 12, 2012 Greg Miller rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Greg by: my sister-in-law
This nonfiction should serve as a primer on Southern racial politics. The account of how a rural, coastal section of Georgia existed through the civil rights upheaval of the 1960's is told in such an engaging way that draws you though a story that you might not have picked out on your own. The local situation was unique but the problems the story showcases can be applied throughout the South. Very logical development with ironic twists, it not only held my interest but showed me how interesting ...more
This is a beautiful and elegant history from below, allowing the people of McIntosh County, Georgia, to tell their stories, to unravel the everyday life of the deep South's racial and class hierarchies, of injustice, inequality, poverty and loss - as well as the sheer richness of community, love and delight that accompanies those other dynamics we too often concentrate on. There is no sanitising here, but their are rich and rounded lives and characters revealed by Greene's abilities to let them ...more
I read Praying for Sheetrock shortly after my move to Georgia in the mid-1990's. For me, it was a potent reminder that I was no longer in Iowa-- and whatever I thought I might know about the politics of race in places like McIntosh County in the 1970's could fit on the head of a pin. Greene has a gift for writing nonfiction that places you in the center of a true story. I have read all of her books except for one--and I'm saving it to savor during spring break. Simply one of the best authors I'v ...more
This book is beautifully written and compelling. I definitely recommend it. My only problem is that Greene wasn't entirely forthcoming about her role in the events of the book--she was married to one of the lawyers. She completely wrote herself OUT Of the book. I think that revealing her own perspective might have given the book more depth. I loved this book, though. It complicates our textbook understandings of the Civil Rights movement and its consequences.
A well-written true to story of southern Georgia and the beginning of the civil rights movement. A sad, but enlightening story of intertwined lives of people, who were just trying to survive and make the world a better place, but then got caught up in the very badness they were fighting.
Okay, I started this and thought it was well-written. I know people who loved it. You know how sometimes there's an annoying noise that you don't hear until someone points it out, and then it drives you crazy. I don't want to ruin it for you, so stop reading this now if you'd like to read and enjoy it.

. . . .

What drove me crazy is that so many descriptions of the people seemed insulting or contemptuous. It felt like part of her humor was in making fun of the people whom she'd interviewed. If it
Judy Ball
This book is a story of one little Georgia community's struggle for civil rights long after progress had begun in the rest of the Deep South. But it is also a portrait of that black community in terms of the struggles of many of its individual members simply to survive. These stories were not written by a disinterested journalistic bystander. Greene writes with a sensitivity at times rivalling poetry about subsistence, survival, and hopelessness under conditions of grueling, crushing poverty, an ...more
I have complex feelings about this book. It's beautiful how it captures the rhythms and cadences of the Coastal south in the early Civil Rights years. Separate and polite (if not at all equal). The dialect seems honest, though it seems at times a bit too polite. The second half of the book isn't as good as the first. The intrusion of outside good guys, the passing of the High Sheriff and the unravelling of a life (Thurnell's) are too dry and almost seem staged. Maybe if this were a work of ficti ...more
Fascinating story of civil rights coming to one small Georgia county. Intriguingly told, although sometimes it gets a bit lost in the weeds of description, it generally puts you in the moment and develops the world in a story despite being compiled from interviews long after the fact. Sometimes the chronology gets a bit confusing, but a story of the south.

And it somewhat fits with Ferguson, MO in terms of different ways the blacks and poor have been kept down in the South.
Joseph Howard
The story was often times humorous (aalthough I don't think it was meant to be), sometimes good, but seldomly very good. This is yet another book intent on preying on "white guilt" and portraying Southern white males as weak, fearful, and scandelous during the late-1960s to mid-1970s. There were many instances of culture ignorance from the Georgia-born, but very liberal author. I'm sure that open interracial relationships between pretty blonde teenage white girls and afro'd teen black boys were ...more
Thanks to my cousin Chris for recommending this book. I might never have stumbled upon it otherwise.

The Civil Rights Movement completely bypassed McKintosh County, Georgia. Harsh realities, endemic poverty and racism only begin to change in the 1970s with the courage of one African-American man who dares to stand up to the status quo. Beautifully written non-fiction - mesmerizing, moving, and inspiring.
This is an important story about the fight for racial equality in a community far removed from the high-profile civil rights battlegrounds of Montgomery, Greensboro, Atlanta and Jackson. It's a complex and ongoing fight, and Greene is able to both show how much progress was made and how there is still far to go.

The book does have some flaws. One of the chief players, Sheriff Poppell, is really revealed only tangentially; the true nature of his character and actions is left somewhat to interpret
Beth Withers
Greene tells the true story of a corrupt sheriff and an awakening African American community in McIntosh County, Georgia. What is so surprising is that the incidents occurred not in the 50s or during the traditional civil rights era but later, from the mid- to late-seventies and well into the eighties. The sheriff had such a hold on the community that the blacks who lived there, a majority of the population, accepted things as they were until one man stood up to it. The story is complicated and ...more
Aug 06, 2008 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Most people think of the 1960s as being the era of the Civil Rights Movement, but in rural Georgia counties, it was the seventies before civil rights came into its own. I remember visiting a restaurant in Tatnall County in the early seventies where African-Americans were required to order their food to go at the back door. Around the same time that this book was written, the best shrimp restaurant in McIntosh county installed cast irons railings around its entrance to keep the sheriff from parki ...more
Claire Rodriguez
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The story is very interesting, a compelling story of corruption and race relations that should be told. But I can't help thinking that it would have been so much better in the hands of another writer. I just couldn't get past the writing style. There was too much (seemingly) irrelevant background information. I think the first 100 pages contained about 20 pages worth of interesting information. Had I realized that, I probably would have skipped entire chapters. It's also very repetitive in spots ...more
Mar 12, 2012 Dale rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kathy Keim
Recommended to Dale by: Sallie Morgan
Shelves: social-history
This was not a fast-paced book. It was actually very slow but I kept at it because I lived near this town in 1975-76 and I had heard from locals NEVER to go into McIntosh County unless you had to and, if you did, to mind the traffic laws. Now, all these years later, I find out that was not a tale! The book was slow, but it was informative. I learned more about the the civil rights movement and how some parts of our country simply ignored the movement until the federal government had to get invol ...more
Al Maki
Greene uses the occurence of a traffic accident involving a truck carrying a load of sheetrock to bring to life the experience of racism in Georgia in the early sixties. I found it very moving.
A remarkable book, this is. The true story of a poor rural coastal Georgia county in the 1970s and 80s. Very different from its neighboring southern counties and states in that close to 100% of eligible black voters were in fact registered to vote. And yet, of course, so similar in terms of racism.
It's a real page-turner, in spite of it being non-fiction. Maybe because it IS non-fiction. The title refers to a woman who was freezing to death and literally prayed for sheetrock to make her house w
Wow. I think I will add this to my list of books I think everyone should read. The events in the book would be easier to reconcile if they'd happened in the 40's and 50's - but to know that the prejudice and abuse of power occured in the 70's makes it difficult. I'd like every colleague who has complained about reverse discrimination to read this book and understand that a slight tipping of the scales cannot possibly compare to the levels of discrimination experienced by blacks and women.

M. Gree
(2.5) I feel guilty giving only a 2 (2.5) to a really well-written book, by an author I think is amazingly talented. But I just didn't love Praying for Sheetrock. I didn't find the story especially compelling, or its subject, Thurnell, exceptional or even likable. As I was reading the account of Thurnell Alston, I kept wondering why Greene had chosen him as the subject of a book. Later I read that her husband worked as his attorney at one time and Greene herself worked at the Georgia Legal Servi ...more
The author has truly remarkable gift of observation and description. Her writing verges on poetry. It's a great story - deeply moving, the writing takes you right into the hearts and motivations of the characters - to provide a deeply humane portrait of poverty and racial division in the South. The (true) story takes place in the 1970s but over-arching themes are still relevant.

At some point I got a little impatient, wanting a little less description and more action, but that's highly subjectiv
As a work of non-fiction, this book was an enjoyable read - it felt like a novel. The stories offered real insight into a world I won't ever know. The characters were well described. But having read other books like The Invention of Wings, I did not find this book to be the page-turner that kept me up at night. I recommend it. I'm glad I read it. But I don't need to put in on my own bookshelf.
A friend in our book club recommended this, calling it a "real page-turner." I read it and enjoyed the author's style (it reminded me a little of Steinbeck; it was that good in places), but I have to disagree about the book being compelling. It's an interesting true story about an African-American man in the U.S. south who became elected as a city councilor and tried to make a difference in his community. The ending, however, is a downward spiral of disappointment and disillusionment. It may be ...more
Highly recommended. I just came upon a reminder of this books when reading about the 400% increase in property taxes on Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia - this will force people whose families have lived there for generations off of their land. I think one has to question the motives behind this move. If you have access to NY Times here is a link:

I read this book several years ago and it is a shocking reminder of racism and cultural divides.
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500 Great Books B...: Praying for Sheetrock - Melissa Fay Greene 5 15 Nov 17, 2014 02:33PM  
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Melissa Greene has been a contributor to NPR, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, LIFE, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Readers Digest, Ms., The Wilson Quarterly, Redbook, and She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Don Samuel, a criminal defense attorney. They have been married for 28 years and are the parents of nine children: Molly, Seth, Lee, Lily, Jesse (adopted ...more
More about Melissa Fay Greene...
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