Shadows of Pecan Hollow – Caroline Frost

This is an important book. This is a major debut novel. You will want to read it. And I am trying to write a review sufficient to explain why that is the case, but without spoilers. It is 1976. A thirteen year old girl ditches her hippie foster parents– the latest foster parents among many. She trusted one when she was seven or so but that didn’t work out and now she is so tough she can shut down the world in her mind and she literally does not feel physical pain. She is on her way to Pecan Hollow to find the great aunt whose name showed up from her infancy in the social worker’s files.

She was called Katherine, but when Manny finds her trying to steal a McDonald’s bag from his car, her shirt stuffed with convenience store crap, she renames herself, Kit. Three letters is just right for the life she’s had with nothing but abandonment, hurt and anger as she passed from one foster home to the next, ensuring by her unpleasant demeanor and her difficult behavior that nothing would be permanent. Some of the many problems with having Manny become your mentor and eventually more is that what he will mentor you in is how to hold up gas stations, shop lift and run out of a restaurant without paying your check. He will teach you how to shoot a gun and drive the getaway car. He is both dangerous and the only person who was ever so drawn to you and involved with you. All that attention from the wrong guy. Little bits of values and morality creep in and are shoved down to make life with Manny work.

So how, when and why does Kit eventually end up in Pecan Hollow, where the entire community finds her about as welcome as her foster parents did? Virtually no one takes the time to get to know and accept Kit and her daughter Charlie. But they have plenty to say about Kit and Charlie. Kit never had a point of reference for being a good mother to her daughter. She trusts no one. She is incapable of nurture and though she loves Charlie, this is not apparent to anyone. She’s in a small Texas town with a job with the local veterinarian; one friend she’s now totally alienated, but so what; a former babysitter who’s grown up to be the town slut, with a mom who’s the town junkie; and a cop of all things who is kind of nice to her but … who with her background could befriend a cop? She’s alone. Except for Charlie, who is no longer accepting that her very hard to love mother is enough. Frost creates complex and memorable characters in Kit, Charlie and Manny. And while I could not put this book down, I felt satisfied with what happens to each of them. I knew by the end who was who, whether their lives held any promise at all, and whether they were likely to be okay or not. The writing is so beautiful with richly drawn settings and experiences. This is simply an unforgettable book.

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