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Gods in Alabama

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For 10 years Arlene has kept her promises, and God has kept His end of the bargain. Until now. When an old schoolmate from Possett turns up at Arlene's door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, former quarterback and god of Possett High, Arlene's break with her former hometown is forced to an end. At the same time, Burr, her long-time boyfriend, has raised an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or consider him gone. Arlene loves him dearly but knows her lily white (not to mention deeply racist) Southern Baptist family will not understand her relationship with an African American boyfriend. Reluctantly, Arlene bows to the pressure, and she and Burr embark on the long-avoided road trip back home. As Arlene digs through guilt and deception, her patched-together alibi begins to unravel, and she discovers how far she will go for love and a chance at redemption.

306 pages, Paperback

First published April 13, 2005

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About the author

Joshilyn Jackson

42 books6,326 followers
Jackson's latest, WITH MY LITTLE EYE pubs April 25, 2023. Pre-order now!

New York Times and USA today bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson is the author of WITH MY LITTLE EYE and nine other books, including NEVER HAVE I EVER, MOTHER MAY I, and THE ALMOST SISTERS. Her work has been translated into more than a dozen languages, won SIBA’s novel of the year, three times been a #1 Book Sense Pick, been the Target Book Club Pick, a Barnes and Noble Pick of the Month, and the Sunday Times Thriller fo the Month. A former actor, Jackson reads the audio versions of her novels; her work in this field has been nominated for the Audie Award, was selected by AudioFile Magazine for their best of the year list, and garnered two Listen Up Awards from Publisher’s Weekly.

She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her family.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,328 reviews
Profile Image for Karla.
279 reviews100 followers
June 25, 2010
Had me at the first line.
"There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus."
Now I tell you my eyebrows shot up thinking now this is gonna be a bumpy ride straight into the modern dirty south.....oh yeah!
blended with vibrant humor, a whodunit and unexpected twists of fate. I really laughed out loud with delight at Jackson's witty flare for language and natural fresh dialoge, she has a serious tallent that well have me collecting all her other books.
I really liked how this had so much under the hood. covered abuse, racism, mental illness, murder, religion, forgivness, redemption and the twisted relationships among a dysfunctional Southern family and the women who are the treads that hold that dixie flag a waving!
Profile Image for Blair.
57 reviews3 followers
May 19, 2008
I don't often write reviews, but I wanted to take a moment to recommend this book to anybody who comes across it on my feed. I am totally enamored with Joshilyn Jackson. Despite my deep South upbringing, I often shy away from novels labeled "Southern fiction." I find them to be cloying and built on stereotypes that did not ring true to my experience as a southerner. Jackson's novels bring a breath of fresh air to the genre. She writes fabulous fiction that happens to take place in the South. gods in Alabama has a plot that doesn't quit - I inhaled this book the way I rarely inhale books these days. When I finished, it was both satisfying and bittersweet. I will miss this story, and these characters.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,478 reviews7,774 followers
May 6, 2020
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.

When it comes to the question of if I want another “maybe you can go home again” story, my answer is always a resounding . . . .

And when it comes to other items contained within these pages, my thoughts go a little summin’ like . . . . .

Meet Arlene. Back in the day she was quite the town bicycle (you know, because ERRRRRRYBODY got a ride). That’s okay, though because . . . . .

She also had her reasons, but you have to read the book to find out what they are. Arlene shook the dust off of her home town and never looked back . . . until a former schoolmate comes banging on her Chicago apartment door asking about a long-dead former high school football star. That’s the catalyst that drives Arlene (and her black beau) back to her home town and the sins of the past. Gods In Alabama is a story full of unforgettable characters, quirk, humor and heart and one that I can’t recommend enough.

My first Joshilyn Jackson was Never Have I Ever, which was a trashy delight. However, I would have never guessed this author would deliver such great Southern fiction (and I believe this one was her debut which is even crazier). I’m officially a fan and will be picking up all of her other books in the future.

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,537 followers
June 20, 2013
I enjoyed this for the humorous dialog and quirky drama while I was reading it, but a week later very little lingers. The themes about growing up are universal, but the solutions are atypical and seem contrived. Still, the lead character has an engaging voice. Her satirical outlook effectively undercuts all manner of hypocrisy and lingering racism and classism in the deep South while applying a certain level of forgiveness for it, as so much of the intolerance derives from ignorance.

Arlene is a white graduate student and teacher in Chicago who has never returned home after escaping following high school 12 years before. A nemesis from her school days has come looking for a popular boy they both knew, one of the gods in Alabama, a football star. This precipitates a crisis and a mystery for the reader:
I promised if He would get me out safe, I would never go back to Possett, Alabama. Not for anything. I wouldn’t even look back lest I turn to salt. And now God allowed Possett, Alabama, to show up on my doorstep. As far as I was concerned, all bets were off.

Something awful happened that she ran away from. The other parts of the compact she lives by are never telling a lie and remaining celibate. A pretty implausible premise, but I rode with it to savor its absurdities. Such as the difference between lying and not telling the truth. She obviously loves her lawyer boyfriend, who happens to be black, but his patience over their limbo is wearing thin. He gives her an ultimatum of introducing him to her family or bye-bye. She also obviously loves her dysfunctional family, but she hopes to protect him from their redneck attitudes and overt racism in its more distant corners.

After her father died when she was seven and a period of time in the care with a loving grandmother, she came to Possett with her mentally ill mother to join the household of Aunt Flo, her postman husband, and a new “sister” in the form of a beautiful, popular cousin, Clarice. Flo is a most unforgettable character. She a master of tough love and shaming to get her way, and she applies her tricks to try to get Arlene to return for her husband’s retirement party. For example, on the phone with Arlene, she lays this quote on her:
“How like a serpent you have nestled to your bosom is a thankless child.”

She thinks the line is from the Bible, but Flo deflates it by identifying it as from “King Lear”. Flo’s next gambit in calling Arlene’s mother to the phone is priceless:
Gladys? It’s your daughter. She must be calling to tell you she is dead and in hell and to ask you to dip your finger in the water, and come and cool her tongue, as she is tormented by the flames. …I am so sorry she is dead and in hell, but at least they have phones there.

So now you get the picture on the flavor of the humor at play in this tale. The narrative method is to disclose a surprising ending within the first chapter or two, then slowly unwind the story of the whys and wherefores. This in fact is the form of the game she plays with her boyfriend on the trip down to Alabama, “What Have I Got in My Pockets?”. One shocking fact revealed early on is that Arlene’s celibacy vow is linked to her life strategy in high school of having sex with virtually every boy in school. A first hint of the why relates to the differences she experienced in the process of befriending with her new cousin/sister, Clarice:

She was tall where I was tiny, blond and ripe where I was dark and scrawny, outgoing and open where I was secretive and silent. She was popular and I was her dreaded barnacle, the obstacle course on every double date, the dead fly you got with every perfect cream-of-Clarice soup. And she had things I couldn’t imagine having. Breasts. Confidence. A real mother.

A lot of this structure works quite well to draw you along in the story. However, my emotional engagement was undermined with the arcane elements that underlie Arlene’s situation and quest to resolve it. A typical Hallmark tale is avoided, but the unusual context takes away a lot of the impact in the use of the classical challenge of healing a breach in a family arising from tragedies and conflicts in youth.
Profile Image for Howard.
1,284 reviews80 followers
August 10, 2022
4 Stars for Gods in Alabama (audiobook) by Joshilyn Jackson read by Catherine Taber.

The main character is quite brash and quirky. Slowly the story unfolds giving us glimpses of the horrible event that made her that way.
Profile Image for BookLover.
387 reviews80 followers
February 7, 2017
After being introduced to Arlene Fleet in Backseat Saints, I was a bit disappointed when the story veered away from her and continued on since I was very intrigued by Arlene and what secrets I knew she had hidden. I was very excited when I found out that Gods in Alabama was about her.

I’m a little at a loss for words in how to describe this book. Joshilyn Jackson is such a wonderful storyteller. Her books evoke such strong emotions from me and I love getting lost in the rich tapestries she weaves. This book was no exception. Arleen Fleet had left her hometown in Alabama and hadn’t been back for ten years. Only an ultimatum from her boyfriend and fear that a secret was about to come unravelled was enough to bring her back home to her family.

This was a fantastic story of love, family and healing. I loved Burr, Aunt Florence and Clarice.

The only thing that brought down my enjoyment was that I listened to it in audiobook format instead of reading it. For some strange reason, at the beginning and end of each chapter, as well as anytime something pivotal was happening, there was this really loud, annoying and distracting music playing in the background. It frustrated me to no end. Though the narrator did a really good job, I was a bit sad that Joshilyn Jackson didn't narrate this story herself, like so many other of her books since she always does such a great job.

I highly recommend this book but do NOT recommend the audio book version.

Despite that, my overall rating of this book is still a solid 5 stars!!
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,547 reviews602 followers
July 9, 2019
Entertaining for an afternoon's read. I like the characters and humor.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,298 reviews450 followers
January 23, 2014
I don't know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading one of Joshilyn Jackson's books, despite the fact that she has been highly recommended by people whose reading tastes I respect. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I finally picked this one up. She has a wicked sense of humor and a fine story to tell. The characters are believable, the plot was just convoluted enough to keep me reading without being frustrated, and the dialogue was very real. And boy, does she ever get southerners right! Right down to the kudzu. I think this was her first novel, which makes her writing talent even more apparent. Now I can add my recommendation to everyone else's. This book is worth a read, especially if you want to be intelligently entertained.
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
September 18, 2019
Yeah, I'm late to the party on this one. What about it?!

So, Arlene is now in her mid-twenties, living the dream in Chicago, in love with a wonderful man and very squeamish to return to her very rural home in Alabama. We don't know all the details for a while but we are very curious. Very curious. In fact, we get curiouser and curiouser. Is Alabama REALLY That Bad?? Ok, I have been to Alabama and frankly, I've never said, "boy what I wouldn't give to live in Alabama!". No offense to those who live or have lived in Alabama. Please no hate... Anyway, it seems the main reason she doesn't want to visit, is her family. Yeah, I have family like that (later on I realized no I don't, my family is much worse! Ok. More on her family in the next paragraph...). When she talks to Burr (her partner) about it, her family doesn't sound that awful although, yeah, they are far from perfect. She does have some pleasant memories even though her childhood was pretty traumatic (her dad died when she was about 7) and then her mom checked out. However, her aunt and uncle took her and her mom in providing them the attention each needed. Oops, I lied, I didn't wait for the next paragraph.

Anyway, Arlene (Burr calls her Lena, as do her Chicago friends) has created a new life and we learn that she promised God she wouldn't ever lie again when she left Alabama. She also swore off ever returning but her Uncle is retiring and her Aunt wants her to come to his party at Quincy's*. Burr has been pressuring her to introduce him to her folks. Through conversations, we learn that Arlene is hiding something. At first we think it is Burr. After all, she is white and from the deep south and he is not. That is he is not from the south. He is also not white. While his mom loves Lena, Burr's sister doesn't like Lena "stealing" a fine African American man from the arms of a wonderful African American woman. Burr isn't worried about her families reaction, he just want to understand her, her roots and her past.

Her guilt leads her to try to partially resolve some issues that have now surfaced. She can take Burr home, go to the retirement party and cover her tracks all at the same time. But, maybe she shouldn't? She did promise GOD!

So the reader already suspects some unpleasantness in Lena's childhood but we aren't expecting quite what we learn! This is one of those stories with lots of twists and unknowns kind of plot. It is simply exquisite in telling and I am giving no hints nor spoilers. Not only does Ms. Jackson deliver a rather light-hearted story though it is pretty dark in places, she addresses some very serious issues along the way (to tell you ruins the plot). While we examine racism including some flat out humorous perceptions and lots of hypocrisy, there are other deeper issues. Do you love your family above your own discomfort? Will you take risks for them, even though the consequences could be very detrimental to you? Can you keep a secret, even when unburdening yourself would be a relief? How is love expressed, in words only or do actions count more?

This is my 7th Joshilyn Jackson novel and each one I've read, always explores controversial topics with great gravity and joy. Her insights are true. Her characters and her plots are made of real life stuff. No need to suspend reality to get to the finish line. They are all unique and at the same time, timeless. Love is messy. Love means doing things that will make others uncomfortable, it may cause you to be rejected. It may blow up in your face. A person with solid character will choose the right course despite the possible consequences. They are the compass that others need to guide them to truth and fairness. I haven't read a story by her that I didn't think "Brava, Ms. Jackson, this was exceptional". This story qualifies with that epitaph. If you missed this, like I did, it isn't too late to give it a look.

*Quincy's was a southern buffet with steaks or other meats served after 4pm, it is defunct as of my review. Sort of like a Golden Corral is today.
Profile Image for Laura.
267 reviews
September 12, 2007
I'm torn about what to think about this book. I definately liked Between, Georgia better. Right off the bat, I kept thinking this one was just weird.

The present/past story telling worked in Between, since you were just learning about her in bits and pieces, and it didn't have to be in chronological order. In this one, it was alternating chapters (not just drifting back to a memory), but I don't think it worked as well. Lena tells about a story telling game they play on road trips, and I soon figured out that was the flow of this book. Starting at the ends, and weaving it's way back to the beginning of the story. But it didn't work for me, as I felt just a hair too much in the dark about what I wanted to know to really enjoy it.

Now, the plot and character. I had a hard time finding anything about Lena that I could identify with. She had, just to sum it up, a terrible childhood. That totally screwed with her head. She is bizzarre to me, and I had a hard time caring what happened to her. The only reason I finished it was to find out what truly happened. Not because I cared about anyone in the book all that much, but just because I longed for an explination of the weirdness. I guess I kinda got one, but I'm still saying the book is weird.
Profile Image for Ivana Books Are Magic.
523 reviews201 followers
August 8, 2021
I have a soft spot for Southern American writers so I figured I should give this one a go. I don't regret it. I mean the opening paragraph to this novel is pretty hilarious: “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.” Bonus points to me for instantly figuring out what god the protagonist Arlene/ Lena left behind. This writer has got spirit, I give her that. However, at times this novel feels like a strange mix of chic lit, murder mystery and family drama. It is too melodramatic to be taken seriously even when it covers some difficult topics such as: abuse, drinking, violence, depression, loneliness, bullying, self-harming and racism. Maybe it is all a bit too much for one book? Fortunately, there were some funny moments along the way. Not enough to forgive the slow, predictable (and yet unconvincing) plot development and a generally stereotyped portrayal of South.

Despite some plot holes and general silliness, I found Gods in Alabama to be an interesting read. This is Joshilyn Jackson's first novel I believe and it shows. The ending doesn't really make sense, the characters are not as well developed as I would like and the dialogues don't sound natural. However, within its pages, there is a nervous kind of energy that captivates the reader- at least that is what I felt. Moreover, I loved how at its core this novel is more focused on a relationship between Arlene/Lena and her aunt (who basically raised her) then on any romantic relationship. I thought that was quite a fresh take on things. To conclude, this novel didn't really lived up to its potential, but it left me wanting more. I do want to read more Joshilyn Jackson!
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews841 followers
June 29, 2010
From the thoughts of Arlene Fleet: "There are Gods in Alabama. I killed one of them." Kudzu covers a multitude of sins. And so it does in Joshilyn Jackson's first published novel. Or, maybe we only think it does. For those about to read "Backseat Saints," Ms. Jackson's latest, read this. Both novels stand alone perfectly well. However, reading them together just emphasizes what a talented writer Jackson is. This is contemporary southern literature at its best. The color is local. The themes are universal. An unbeatable combination.
Profile Image for sandra.
95 reviews2 followers
August 19, 2018
Goodness, I don't remember the last time I read a book about a family from the southern US that didn't involve some unhappy young woman with (a) a drunken-wife beating father or (b) a teenage rape. This is yet another. Just to be thorough, the author even threw in the requisite family of eccentrics. In two weeks, I won't remember a thing about it.
Profile Image for Mauoijenn.
1,127 reviews114 followers
March 24, 2015
An excellent southern fiction story. I enjoyed this so much and the writing was awesome. A great ride through back roads and family history. I am definitely going to be on the look out for more of Jackson's books.
Profile Image for Jan Rice.
532 reviews460 followers
March 14, 2014
A young lady from the deep south finds herself up north in graduate school with an African-American boyfriend. What's more, she can't go home again, for other reasons besides the boyfriend. Ten years ago she killed the town football hero/predator/drinker and left his body moldering in the kudzu. She has promised God she'll never go home and never tell another lie, if only she isn't caught.

From that premise unfolds the story told in Joshilyn Jackson's first novel. And quite a story it is! It made a splash back in 2005 and propelled Ms. Jackson toward a career as a novelist which continues to go forward.

At the start, the set-up seems just a little improbable, but the reader, carried along by the rapid current, doesn't have much time to worry about that. And the story gets better as it moves along, accumulating psychological detail and a sense of place, especially as the action moves back to Alabama. (No spoiler here; you knew that had to happen!)

When it comes to endings, Ms. Jackson is the opposite of Stephen King. She does them well. You will get your money's worth out of this one.

At first I wondered why I was contemplating four stars for this book. Is it "just" entertainment?

Then I thought of the book in terms of the book of moral philosophy I just finished. This book is all about morality in terms of one's group(s). Morality in terms of what is owed, especially to those who raised you, who nurtured you, and whose origins you shared.

How do you honor the ones who rescued you?

The protagonist of Gods in Alabama embodies a Kantian dilemma about lying. In the beginning, like Kant (at least as his philosophy is described in the other book I read), it's okay with her to tell misleading truths but not out-and-out lies. But in the end, this young lady ascends to a morality in which the ties that bind win out over the abstract Kantian absolutes.

Thinking about this book in terms of morality as it intersects with group loyalties is giving me a new idea about "southern" literature. I have previously thought of it largely in terms of drama and histrionics, such as in the fiction of Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons that I have sampled. And I have tended to shy away from such writing because it feels manipulative to me. (I have read more of Pat Conroy's nonfiction than his fiction.)

This is the second Joshilyn Jackson book I've read; I read her second book first. A quick check of my library shows they have her other books, in audio formats, if that's what I want. I'll keep that in mind!
Profile Image for Tania.
1,233 reviews285 followers
January 21, 2015
There are Gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.

A quick, entertaining read but not as good as A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, which makes perfect sense as Gods was her debut novel and A grown-up kind of pretty her latest. I still thoroughly enjoyed this southern story with it's many twists and turns. The author had me smiling throughout, and I thought her main characters we're very well developed.
I like adding some "easy" authors to my list to read between historical fiction titles, and I'm sure that before the end of this year I'll have read of Joshilyn's.
Highly recommended if you don't need your characters to be politically correct.
The Story: When Lena Fleet goes to college, she makes three promises to God: she will stop fornicating with every boy she meets; never tell another lie and never, ever go back to her hometown of Possett, Alabama. All she wants from God in return is that He makes sure the body is never found...But ten years later, it looks like God's going back on His deal.
Profile Image for Ruth Turner.
408 reviews113 followers
October 5, 2014


I read to half way and then gave up.

I really didn't like the way the story was written, moving back and forwards between past and present. That's normally not a a problem for me, but in this book it just didn't work. I struggled to stay interested.

I also didn't like any of the characters. There was no depth or feeling, and therefore I found it difficult to care about any of them. And the main character, Lena, was just plain weird.

Usually, bad language isn't a problem for me, but the continual use of the f* word was overdone, and for the most part, unnecessary.

Profile Image for Nadia.
10 reviews33 followers
May 26, 2007
There is something really beautiful about an author who is in control of their craft -- It's hard enough to plot a successful story that is intriguing, but to be able to manipulate the chronology of a story and make the story even better? (This is one of the reasons I enjoyed Time Traveller's Wife so much) This is a great book that will teach men something about relating to women and teach women something about relating to themselves. Good stuff - it's a fast read, with fabulous strong characters. Really Enjoyed it (i.e. I'm going to keep it on my shelves and not allow anyone to borrow it, in case I want to read it again).
Profile Image for Brittany (Britt's Book Blurbs).
689 reviews165 followers
November 20, 2021
The blurb for Gods in Alabama is so misleading. I definitely thought it would be meet-the-parents: racist southern fiction style. Instead, it was tragic family history, dark secrets, and murder.

"There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus."

"There are gods in Alabama. I know because I killed one."

Lena is a hot mess. Instead of taking any responsibility for her actions, she pretends she's responsible while never maturing past the teenager she was when she left home. I understand the compulsion to 'make deals with God' to deal with a traumatic event as a child. Twelve years later, Lena should have grown up. Instead, she plays the victim, makes decisions for other people, and squirms her way out of facing her problems, ultimately making her life much more complicated than it needs to be.

Burr almost saved this story for me. He's the most likeable, mature, level-headed person in the whole book. He deals with Lena's insanity so well it almost makes her a competent human. She wouldn't have achieved closure or resolution without Burr's calm, consistent assistance. And I 100% agree with Burr's mother - Lena is not the girl I would've picked for Burr either.

After all the meet-the-parents drama I expected, Burr's introduction to Lena's family was a total non-issue. I mean, yes, they were super racist. But it never went anywhere, and it seems like everyone agreed (without any discussion) to brush it all aside and pretend it wasn't happening.

Gods in Alabama can be summed up with: lots of buildup, whole lotta fizzle.

Review originally posted here on Britt's Book Blurbs.

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Profile Image for Laura.
52 reviews8 followers
June 24, 2009
I'm not sure why this book is so widely acclaimed.... well, of course, it is likely widely acclaimed by a group of people who have never lived in any part of the south.

This book lacked the panache of Between, Alabama. Between is really a character study, and it's brilliant just for that reason.

This book is your basic "southerners are all racist" "high school cliches are all true" "the body is buried in the garden" kind of crap. It's only redeeming feature is the accurate descriptions of the heaps and kudzu.

I'm glad I read Between first, because I never would have read another novel by this author if I had read gods in Alabama first. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,094 reviews7 followers
December 28, 2021
3.5 stars

I really miss this author's early work and this one is a great example of why she became a firm favourite of mine.

We meet Arlene, who for the past 10 years have kept her promise to God not to fornicate, lie or ever EVER go back to Alabama as long as he will keep her deepest darkest secret hidden. And its worked, until now.........

As with all her earlier work this is set in the South, full of quirky off-beat characters that will charm you into liking them even if they have done bad things.

Had I read this in a shorter space of time I would probably have given it a full 4 stars.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,814 reviews343 followers
April 4, 2012
Audio book performed by Catherine Taber

Arlene Fleet lived up to her name when she fled Possett Alabama for Chicago as soon as she graduated high school. She’s lived up to her bargain with God – she will not lie, fornicate or return to Alabama, as long as He keeps the body hidden. Now she’s being pressured by her African American tax attorney boyfriend to introduce him to the family. She loves Burr, but her family members are racist Southern Baptists, and of course there’s the issue of the missing high school quarterback - even after ten years, people still wonder. She’s avoided her family all this time, but when former high school nemesis, Rose Mae Lolley, shows up unexpectedly asking questions about Jim Beverly, Arlene and Burr have to return to Alabama so she can reinforce her alibi.

I have to admit I was engaged and fascinated by the thought processes of the teen-age (and “adult”) Arlene. Assumptions are flung around by everyone, leading even the principle players astray. I was sure I had it figured out, only to be surprised – not once, but twice.

This is a fun, quick Southern gothic read. Jackson doesn’t dwell for long on the dark side – thank God, because it is pretty dark. Instead she gives the reader plenty of diversions as Arlene and her cousin (practically sister) Clarice Lukey wend their way through high school and young adulthood.

Catherine Taber does a great job performing the audio book. Her southern accent is spot on perfect. Her pacing is brisk enough to maintain suspense and interest, but slow enough to allow the reader to absorb it all. My only quibble with the audio is the totally unnecessary use of background music to set the scene. I really do not need “spooky” music as a background to the darker scenes in order to understand the setting and importance of what is happening. Lost ½ star there.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
Author 8 books10 followers
February 3, 2008
I was all ready to be blown away by this book--the language, the humor, the structure. It started well, the main character engaged me, and when Lena and Burr started the trip with their games, I had an electric shock of realization that the author was going to play "What's in my pocketses" with the reader. Which she did.

But I was disappointed, and I felt the character let me down. I didn't really see Jim Beverly as a rapist. A bad drunk, that I could see, but as presented--well, no. Also I have a slight problem with the whole rape scene. He does this, he does that, suddenly Lena (or Arlene as she was then known) is knocked out and the very drunk Jim B has managed to overpower the innocent, perfect cousin. Okay, Arlene was knocked out, but there wasn't anything wrong with Clarice (and what a pure, pure name). Clarice wasn't drunk, wasn't incapacitated, and the boy didn't knock her out. So while I could maybe see a drunk boy having his way with a knocked-unconscious girl who couldn't, by virtue of unconsciousness, put up any resistance, I couldn't see how he could manage the act with an alert and able-bodied cheerleader who could put up some resistance.

My second problem was that the whole scenario was Arlene's fault. Clarice said not to get in the car. Of course Arlene was in teenaged lust with Jim Beverly so she did get in the car, but without her bad judgment the whole drunken ride and resulting rape wouldn't have happened.

And I knew all along that Lena hadn't killed him, and as it turned out, she would even have had to lie to Rose. She could have told Rose the absolute truth, if not the whole truth, and on that note the whole plot collapses, for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Darcy.
12.7k reviews445 followers
March 28, 2010
Lena has been in Chicago for the last 10 years, trying to forget her family in Alabama. In that time she has never gone home, atonement for her actions when she was a teenager through a promise to God for help. Her family doesn't know why she doesn't come home, only that she doesn't. They try all the tricks in the book during the weekly phone calls, but Lena holds fast to her promise.

In this new life Lena has been dating a guy, Burr, that is all she wants. They have been dating for 2 years, but he is wants more and is demanding to meet her family. At this time a ghost from the past comes to visit her and it seems like her life is going to hell in a handbasket. To head off the ghost and all the problems that it will bring she finally is heading home, along with Burr, who is sure to surprise her family as he is black and she is white.

On the way down to Alabama, Lena starts to go back on all of her promises, and once they arrive all of the craziness starts to happen. Lena and her Aunt are in a battle of wits. All the past comes rushing back to Lena and she feels the need to come clean with Burr.

In the end there are all sorts of secrets are revealed, new ones have to be kept, and you find yourself wishing you were part of this crazy family.
Profile Image for Mari Anne.
1,353 reviews24 followers
August 29, 2012
Jackson does it again! Personally I am loving Joshilyn Jackson. Her books are somewhat hard to describe. They are intense dramas, somewhat in the vein of Jodi Piccoult. For me though Jackson's writing seems tighter and more intense than Piccoult. She fits a lot more angst in less space.

In this one, Arlene Fleet has fled Alabama for Chicago and hasn't been back for 10 years because of a trauma that happened in high school. Due to her own reasons, she killed one of her small Alabama town's gods... the high school quarterback. She has managed to avoid Alabama for a decade until Alabama shows up on her doorstep in Chicago in the form of Rose, the main character in "Backseat Saints".

In this clever twist this novel intersects with her later novel "Backseat Saints". "Saints" is the story of Rose, this is Arlene's story. I actually preferred this one to "Saints". I thought it was a tighter, more interesting story and that the characters were better developed.

I am already looking forward to reading more Joshilyn Jackson books!
Profile Image for E..
283 reviews41 followers
March 17, 2016
This was a debut novel for an author who has written several books since. I'm glad about that, because I liked this one enough to want to read those.

I didn't know this was a first book when I read it, and I never would have guessed. The rural Alabama setting was descriptive and realistic. The dialogue was snappy, at times touching, at times had me laughing out loud. The characters were vivid, quirky and had depth.

The story itself was a simple one. Centered around a dysfunctional family, their issues, beliefs and secrets. All of these things can tear a family apart, or bring them together.
As the story progressed, flashbacks would reveal a little more of the secrets and truths. Sometimes it made things clearer, sometimes more confusing, but I was enjoying the ride. There were some twists near the end that I hadn't guessed.

Ms. Jackson definitely has a talent for writing. She can make one scene seem humorous and intimately touching at the same time. I think that's what I liked most about this book. Seriously looking forward to picking up another.

Profile Image for steffie.
76 reviews9 followers
July 13, 2007
It took me a little while to get into this one. Starts off pretty slow and uninvolving despite the author's apparent attempts to achieve the opposite effect.

A lot of the wacky Southern stuff fell flat and has been done before by other authors with greater insight and flair. Some of the humor was brilliant in spots; some of it was like dead air.

To me, the book only true came alive during the flashbacks. The story of Arlene's adolescence captured me, and I had great compassion for her.

I also give credit to Jackson for being able to effectively weave the past and present together, because I know that can't be easy, yo.

I can't give this more than two stars. But it's a quick read, has some great spots, and Jackson has a good voice. I might read another book by her to see what else she's got going on.
Profile Image for Donna .
485 reviews125 followers
February 2, 2020
I really enjoyed the audio narration of this. I enjoyed some parts of this story more than others. For example, there were many times that I was uncomfortable with how race was discussed. I felt like the main character's partner's race was used as a way to provoke and not treated as his own individual person. Such as when Lena wanted to take Burr to her relative's retirement party just to piss off her racist family with no consideration of how uncomfortable he would be in that situation. It wasn't even a factor that was brought up at all. It was off-putting for me. But at the same time, is this because the author is tone-deaf regarding race or was it because this is who the character was and it was meant to feel awkward and uncomfortable. I did enjoy the story though and I'm likely to read more books by this author.
Profile Image for Tina .
576 reviews31 followers
July 3, 2016
There are gods in Alabama...

Don't let the Chic-Lit style cover of this book fool you. This book is Southern Lit at its' finest. It is both witty and dark and delves into some tough subject matter. Arlene (Lena) is not a character I will soon forget nor is her story of growing up in Alabama and staying away for years because of what happened there.

I can't believe I waited years to read this book thinking it was all light and fluffy. I chose the audio version and the narrators voice is still in my head days later. She was the perfect person to deliver every line of this book. Also, the references to Quincy's Steakhouse and Mr. Gatti's pizza certainly threw me back to my youth.

Final Rating: 4.5 stars!
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