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A Peach For Big Jim

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In 1947 racially charged Mills Hollow, South Carolina, Chloe Mason knows not to go near the Negroes who live in the river shacks, especially sixteen-year-old Big Jim. He’s something of a myth, a big black boy known for eating opossums and howling at the moon. At least that’s what Chloe’s brother, Caleb, and her Pa, a fiddle-playing Southerner who waves a Confederate flag, tell her. Yet, when Chloe slips into Foxhole Swamp, it’s Big Jim who saves her from an alligator. She secretly befriends Big Jim and takes it upon herself to teach him to read, even bringing him a forbidden peach from Widow Jones’ tree. Chloe meets Big Jim in a tree fort he constructs out of wood scraps, and together they endure the injustices Big Jim suffers – like being whipped by Chloe’s father for trespassing. But once her father discovers their secret meetings and is ready to lynch Big Jim, Chloe’s loyalty is tested to the breaking point, calling into question everything she’s come to believe about herself, her family, and what truly matters most.

Set in the swamps of low country South Carolina, A PEACH FOR BIG JIM is a poignant tale of enduring hope, relentless determination and coming-of-age at a time when innocence is all but gone.

318 pages, ebook

First published July 31, 2019

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About the author

Lisa Belmont

1 book18 followers
Lisa Belmont was born in Maryland and has fond memories of making snowmen and sledding down hills. She's traveled extensively throughout Europe - enjoying the chocolate of Switzerland, the tea in London, and the shops in Paris. She rode a camel in Morocco, went scuba diving in Tahiti, and outrigger-canoe surfed in Hawaii. But she's most at home when she's creating vividly imagined characters like those found in her debut novel, A Peach For Big Jim.
She now makes her home in Seattle, Washington.

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5 stars
44 (56%)
4 stars
26 (33%)
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5 (6%)
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2 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for Christy.
620 reviews
August 22, 2019
I loved this book. I thought it was wonderful!! Well written, full of southern dialogue, and great characters (even though you hate a lot of them).

The main character is Chloe mason. She learned in school all about the famous court case that states "separate but equal". This is set in a very racist small town during the 40s and Chloe is quickly learning that it is definitely not equal. Big Jim is the 16 year old black boy who is the legend of the little swamp town, and not in a good way. Horrible stories are made up about him and how feeble minded he is. She also has a very racist Pa and an older brother, Caleb, who wants nothing more than to please their father and become the image of the perfect southern gentleman (In their Pa's warped eyes).

One day Big Jim saves Chloe from an alligator in the nearby swamp, and from there a beautiful friendship emerges. She gets to see first hand the terrible injustices Big Jim is forced to endure, and begins to teach him to read. I loved her character. This was a coming of age story - she starts out as an innocent 13 year old girl who loves her Pa and believes anything he says. Then comes the hard decisions and she is forced to grow up quickly. She's smart, brave, loyal, and caring. I loved the discussions of her family tree and the secrets that come out about their family. I highly recommend this one! It was appalling and maddening, yet makes you feel really good at times.

*Ebook won in a Goodreads Giveaway -- All opinions are my own*
Profile Image for Marissa.
2,923 reviews32 followers
August 14, 2019
Goodreads Kindle Copy Win

It is the south and in the time of slavery. A young woman befriends a black man who saves him. Meeting in private she teaches him to read and giving him forbidden peaches from a widow’s tree. But soon her father finds about their meetings as he wants to lynch him.

It will put the woman to question her ideals as she is put to the test. In a world of bigotry she must figure what is true to herself. This a fascinating friendship.
Profile Image for Lori.
1,375 reviews
July 3, 2019
I received a kindle version of this book through the goodread's giveaways. This book takes place in south Carolina in 1947. Racism is going strong in this area. Chloe lives there she has been warned to stay away from the black people { much nastier words are used in the book} on her way home she cuts through the swamp and is confronted by an alligator. She is saved by Big Jim a 16 year old black teenager. At first frightened by him she slowly starts up a secret friendship with Big Jim. She teaches him how to read. Because of the punishment both would get for being friends they keep it secret. Chloe's own father would be the worst if he found out about 13 year old Chloe and Big Jim being friends. I do not want to give any spoilers about what happens but I liked this story about Chloe and Big Jim's friendship during the 40s in the south.
Profile Image for Bobbie.
508 reviews67 followers
July 21, 2019
I thought I would like this book, but I really did not. Still, the writing was good, and I did like some of the main characters- especially Chloe Mason, Big Jim, and the Widow Jones. Some of the other characters I hated for they were blinded by their prejudice so much that they saw wrong as right. I did not care for the topic, but I was touched by Chloe and Big Jim's friendship. I don't whether you would like this book or not, but it just was not my cup of tea.
Profile Image for April eclecticbookworm.
873 reviews44 followers
October 5, 2019
I won this in a Goodreads give away. It was an absorbing historical fiction focusing on racism and family history in South Carolina in the 1940s.
Profile Image for Jeremiah Cobra.
Author 3 books14 followers
August 23, 2020
Belmont gave herself a rather tall assignment here. In one sense, she sets out to craft a very well-meaning and heart-warming story of forbidden friendship (a not entirely unique trope) and in another sense, she seems to have something important to say about post civil war race-relations in the south (another familiar trope if one has read To Kill A Mockingbird, Gone With The Wind, or a host of other novels). In both senses, I applaud her attempt and I was rooting for this novel from the opening lines. Belmont is a very talented writer whose skill belies her status as an indie author. Furthermore, she has the kind of command over the English language that allows her to break many of its rules quite effectively (though her choice to use “shore” over “sho’” to imitate the southern pronunciation of “sure” began to grate on me after its third or fourth usage). There are moments where dialogue and setting are simply wonderful. As I read, I could often see myself in those swamps Or in the kitchen with its aromas of baking cakes and fried biscuits. Also, most of the pivotal exchanges between Big Jim and Chloe really ring true, and I surely went into the story with high hopes for the development of these two characters. The story soars in its earnestness and protagonist’s character development. Where it falls flat, however, is in the development of the other characters and other storytelling elements whose tendency to evoke chagrin in the reader may simply reflect on the reader’s taste than the writer’s ability.

For starters, I found some of the exposition to be frustrating. There are moments in this book when intriguing action is stopped dead by the completely irrelevant thoughts and musings of the protagonist. In one scene, when it seems the character is about to be swallowed by an alligator, I had to read two or three paragraphs of Chloe’s country fancies and similes before I found out what happens to her. In fact, much of the exposition seems to do very little to move the plot along, and by the 30th time Chloe uses “like” or “coon” in her description of things, I began finding it hard to stay immersed in the story. As for characterization, I’ll start by saying I found Caleb and Pa to be very simple cutouts of racist white men. They hate darkies and they like hunting, and that’s all you apparently need to know about them. Most troubling, however, is how cliché Big Jim is.

I attended Howard University and studied literature, so I feel fairly certain that if this book were to ever make it to the eyes of African American scholars, they’d have a field day with the titular character’s name alone (how close can that name be to Ni**er Jim or Bigger Thomas), let alone how he seems to serve very little function in the narrative other than for the protagonist to cleanse herself of racism. As a black man, myself, I could not ignore the fact that Big Jim is pretty much the magical negro stereotype inherent in so many post-Civil Rights Era narratives. It’s also not lost on me that the white women in this book seem to be mostly immune to the racism that so deeply plagues the white men. Essentially, this book adds very little to the racial harmony narrative that we haven’t already been beaten over the head with: racism is bad, and white men are largely to blame for it. Add to that the heavy-handed quoting of black leaders (Frederick Douglass and Booker T Washington make appearances) to begin a few chapters that are ultimately empty by comparison, and I must conclude that the story falls flat on its racial message. Beginning a chapter with a quote as heavy and important as “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” and then proceeding to write a chapter that is 3 or 4 pages of very little struggle (if any at all) is—well—flat.

Ultimately, I think this is a book of good intentions. A young adult reader could do worse in his/her reading choices than a book whose theme encourages friendship over bigotry. However, in the grand scheme of literature, there are many books that have done this book and done it much better. We are a culture rife with “white heroine saves the feeble-minded negro” narratives. I was hoping for a bit more from this one.
Profile Image for Charlotte.
101 reviews1 follower
June 9, 2019
"The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is, that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't. Henry Ward Beecher."

Amongst my collection of favourite books there are sadly only a few where a young female is given the opportunity to narrate her story demonstrating independence in both thought and action; breaking convention and defying those around her for the greater good. Think Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird) or Mattie Ross (True Grit) or Dolores Price (She's Come Undone) or , more recently-and btw brilliantly, Marie Grosholtz (Little by Edward Carey). Yet here, in A Peach for Big Jim, Lisa Belmont has created a character who can proudly stand amongst the best.

Chloe Jane Mason lives in South Carolina at a time where, despite the abolition of slavery, one's rights were dictated by the colour of your skin. Whilst a few strove to overturn the extreme discrepancies between the rights and freedoms of individuals of different race, changes were slow and tensions were high.

Chloe has a couple of influencing voices: in her teacher, Miss Lilly, who educates her class about the 'separate but equal' doctrine of education, the underground railroad and General Robert Lee's surprising views about slavery. and Widow Jones who employs Chloe and her mother to help run her large -and empty- house. But louder and way more forceful are those of her father (Tucker Ray Mason), brother (Caleb) and just about every other white member of the community.

However, when one day 16 year-old Big Jim, son of Hattie-Mae and the victim of fable, folktale and rumour, saves Chloe from an alligator in Foxhole Swamp, she begins to form her own ideas about people and the community in which she lives. In Belmont's words; "She flies with her own wings." Tasking herself with teaching her saviour and new companion to read, a series of events and family secrets threaten to destroy all of their lives.

Belmont's book tells a gripping tale which explores what it means to be free and the struggles and sacrifices that people endure in order to get what they and others deserve. At one point Chloe reflects; "I was more entrapped than he was." as she finds herself isolated by her conviction: a daily experience for any person, past or present, trying to strike out and finding themselves a lone voice amongst many.

I highly recommend this book and am most grateful to Netgalley and the publisher for sharing an advance copy with me in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Margot Lissens.
253 reviews26 followers
July 31, 2019
Favourite book of this year so far ❤

Trigger warnings: racism and violence
Representation: diverse characters

Immediately from the beginning I liked the main character Chloe. Even though she is only 13, she’s a very wise girl. She’s loving and caring but still has her childish innocence. Throughout the book you can see and read how Chloe grows up and loses that innocence. She loves her dad but also knows that what he does is wrong, very wrong. But unlike any other YA main character she doesn’t try to change her father’s opinion, because she knows it’s useless. Even though she knows her dad is a bad person, she still sees the good in him (at the beginning of the story at least), and that’s also not something you come across a lot.

My favourite character apart from Chloe was without a doubt Widow Jones. She knows she has it good and knows that she is privileged and that makes her want to help people who aren’t. Widow Jones is also a caring and loving woman, but she is also flawed. She has made mistakes. I just love it when characters aren’t just good or bad, but they’re morally grey. It makes the characters just so real.

As a whole this story just felt so real. All the characters were very well developed. The plot was also greatly developed, even though the story was also a bit character driven. The pacing of the story was great. Suspense and ‘moments of rest’ were alternated in a nice way.

The writing style of this book was very southern American. I can tell you that I usually hate it when books are written that way, or just any way that isn’t ‘proper’ English (or any other language I read in). But because it is set in the forties and because it obviously takes place in the south of the USA, it added some extra authenticity to the story and also made the story once again feel like it was something that actually happened. And I also have to say that my mother tongue is not English, but the book was still super understandable to me, I had no problem understanding the southern writing style.

I don’t have a single complaint about this book and can even say it is one of my favourite, if not my favourite read, of 2019 so far.ù

I was provided an e-arc of this book through Netgalley, but that doesn’t affect my opinion in any way.
Profile Image for Cam Lang.
Author 1 book46 followers
February 23, 2021
How could a black man, a boy really (16 years old), save a young white girl from drowning, yet be regarded so lowly (lower than the coons in swampy South Carolina even) by the white populace of this small southern town? "Things ain't gotta be this way." To me, this was the pivotal line of the book, right at its mid-point. It's a realization by the narrator and precocious young protagonist, Chloe (I had Laura Ingalls voice in my mind as I read this novel), as she struggles to understand big themes surrounding morality, loyalty, justice, honor, deep-rooted racism and fear. These are timeless themes and as a result, this is a novel that will have great longevity.

Chloe's father and best friend (Joss Bleekman) are descendants of fine southern gentlemen (men who fought bravely in the Civil War) and regard themselves with much the same address. But they're racist to the core. They probably don't know it or even think about it. They raise their children and lead their daily lives without questioning themselves or their own morality. That's just the way it is, the way things have always been. The theme of "roots" manifests itself throughout. But what Chloe eventually discovers in a diary about her own family's roots would surely shock the white right out of her father's face. In this coming-of-age tale, where will Chloe's loyalties ultimately lie?

An incredibly well-written piece with commentary that tugs at the heart strings. The dialogue and narration are in complete sync throughout the novel. The plot is extraordinary with intriguing twists and enjoyable revelations about Civil War history and its players. The characters are so well-developed you feel like you're in the scenes with them. This is the best book I've read in quite some time. A homerun debut novel!



Profile Image for TMDGReviews.
206 reviews4 followers
April 30, 2020
A familiar theme in an imaginary place, the message came through. The mechanics flowed smoothly, and the story interested me, but Chloe seemed younger than thirteen to me; maybe it was the time and setting. I found other characters more captivating, such as Widow Jones; the secrets the woman carried could have been a novel unto themselves. The point at which Chloe's father had to choose between her or his best friend and their beliefs, I didn't think I'd ever see that happen; it shocked me. The ending left with me with nagging questions, will there be a sequel?
67 reviews3 followers
July 23, 2020
A true modern day classic

This book will year your heart out.

It is beautifully paced and lovingly crafted.

This is a tale of a young girl learning that racism is foolish and wrong. It's set in a time when lynching was not out of place and true hatred gripped everyone's hearts.

I honestly feel this book needs to be read in highschool. It tells the dark, bloody history of the US in a way only a first hand account could. While at the same time making you feel hopeful for the future and grateful for how far we've all come.

Do not pass up this book.
Profile Image for Richard Titus.
Author 3 books
August 9, 2020
Well-crafted tale

This story doesn't represent my usual reading fare. In spite of that, I was quickly drawn into the plot and found the story very engaging. The author skillfully leads the reader into the story's era with colorful descriptions evoking the period. The story's theme has relevance in current events where our society, as a whole, examines age old prejudices, discarding them one by one as we move collectively towards a more holistic future that better represents the kind of world that empowers and embraces our diversity.
Profile Image for J.A. Martin.
Author 24 books32 followers
April 29, 2020
Bittersweet

This is a book that takes you back in time to the South in the 1940’s and shows two aspects of the South that battle against each other. I cried a few times reading this book which was very well-written and dealt with the delicacy of the subject in a balanced way. My favorite character is Chloe herself, a 13 year old girl not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.
Profile Image for Kristin.
581 reviews35 followers
September 3, 2019
A Peach For Big Jim is a book that is heartbreaking at times, yet it has some beautiful moments as well. I loved Big Jim, Widow Jones and Chloe, and the latter has a great character arc going from an innocent girl to maturing a bit during the novel. The characters are in general well developed and so is the storyline. I would highly recommend this book.
809 reviews
September 25, 2019
I won a Kindle edition of this book in a Goodreads giveaway, for which I'd like to thank the publisher and the author.

I was surprised to really enjoy this book. It was a quick and engaging read and very thought provoking. I liked the main characters (Big Jim and Chloe) and felt they were well developed. Also, everyone needs a Widow Jones in their lives.
Profile Image for Alicia Geromel.
296 reviews4 followers
April 7, 2020
Spectacular Story!

Happier than To Kill a Mockingbird but just as riveting, with a deep love for and understanding of southern people, this is a book worth not just reading but giving. The characters are rich and comp!ex, and the nature of the land, swamp, salt marsh and river is rendered beautifully.
Profile Image for D.L. Norris.
Author 2 books3 followers
April 11, 2020
Author Lisa Belmont has penned an enchanting coming of age tale that follows the young and determined Chloe Mason as she navigates deeply-rooted fear, superstition, and racism. Forced to face her own demons, Chloe discovers an enduring and unshakeable bond of friendship with the son of a plantation housemaid amid 1940s Deep South cultural taboos. A heartwarming and highly recommended read.
Profile Image for Liza Cordero.
Author 2 books14 followers
August 11, 2020
From the Eyes of a Child

An outstanding story of friendship and standing up for what you believe in. Racism as seen from the eyes of a child. A very relevant tale of how parents teach their children to hate people who are not like them. And how a child decides to love instead.

Everyone should read this book!
Profile Image for Annie Beth.
Author 6 books32 followers
June 15, 2020
Very Captivating Story

From the start, Belmont provides captivating imagery that pulls you into the story and makes you feel like you are in South in the 40s. The story was very well written and I think would really appeal to young adult readers.
Profile Image for Melissa T.
248 reviews47 followers
July 28, 2019
I won this book on good reads first read. Thank you!

I could not put this book down! It was very suspenseful and it kept you thinking.

I’m glad it turned out the way it did for Big Jim and Chloe.
Profile Image for Raleigh Barnes.
Author 2 books5 followers
February 23, 2020
Good, but Not Great

I enjoyed this book. It has some great descriptive writing and a unique plot enhanced by a strong cast of characters. The setting is clear and thoroughly painted for the reader.

Most of the gripes with it are in the writing style itself. Some may love its southern tone, but it comes across too strongly for my taste. This choice is also becoming more of a trend than an important literary movement in my eyes, so it bothered me. Also, being from the south myself, I found some of the language exaggerated instead of being indicative of the true dialect.

All in all, this is still a good book. My personal problems will probably not be experienced by most who read it, so I still recommend. More of a 4.5/5.
February 24, 2020
A song of the South

A story of the South with the heart of To Kill a Mockingbird. How through a child's innocent eyes they become more worldly than most of the adults around them. Race, religion, hate are all things we teach our children. Those that can see past all that can see how we are all the same.
Profile Image for Carol Alwood.
Author 8 books67 followers
February 23, 2020
Engaging

I liked this story with all of its southern imagery. It challenged the southern charm mixed with racism. Chloe captured my heart as she went against all her family believed to do something right. Definitely a mix of classic literature with a taste all it’s own.
Profile Image for Colleen.
22 reviews
July 11, 2019
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. This book takes place in the 1940s So. Carolina, & when racial tensions were high in the deep south. Thirteen year old Chloe had always heard stories from her father & brother & others about a boy named “Big Jim” but one day as she was walking home & her hat blew away, she ended up falling in the swamp trying to retrieve it & It was Big Jim who saved her from a gator. After that she came to know him & realized all these things were untrue. As she befriended him & taught him to read, she found herself reading & learning, forming her own opinions & seeing how others were treated, & all they went through for their freedom & started standing up for what she believed was right, & sticking to her convictions despite what others thought. I thought this a good book & with a couple of surprises I didn’t want to put it down!
112 reviews
August 20, 2019
A terrific story

The words take you to the old South, stepped in history and long ago relationships. The power of the words is remarkable, transporting your mind to a time when races were not to interminable in any form of the word, even friendship. A very emotional dirty and one i would wholeheartedly recommend.
Profile Image for Mary.
15 reviews1 follower
October 11, 2019
I won this book in a Goodreads give away. Although the language was not something I loved - I did love the message underneath it all. The message of forgiveness and love no matter your skin color is a much needed one.
24 reviews1 follower
August 23, 2019
Riveting

Good description of the south in the 1940’s and the racism that existed. Couldn’t put it down, stayed with me all day long.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews

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