Oftentimes, a story within a story spins a fascinating tale, as the present day protagonist peels layer after layer from a secret or unknown mystery that affects her as she searches and researches. Avery Stafford, a purely fictional character,is perplexed by family inconsistencies and strange clues her Grandma Judy’s Alzheimer’s-affected mind drops from time to time. Her horrifying discoveries (based on factual occurrences and people, from the 1920’s through the 1950’S concerning stolen children at The Tennessee Children’s Home ) come to light slowly, leading the reader to wonder and speculate about what actually happened and how this will affect their lovable, strong protagonist.
In the story, Avery Stafford is a thirty year old woman, engaged her patient fiancé, Elliott, and she just keeps postponing setting a date for the wedding. First her father’s diagnosis of cancer, followed by her Grandmother’s placement in a facility, then by a strange, forced meeting with Trent, whose grandfather was an investigator on Edisto Island, who reunited families needing his help cause her to delay. She, like her father, graduated from Columbia Law School and is a top notch lawyer with a prestigeous firm. Her father is now a Senator and is running for re-election. When a strange woman at her Grandmother’s nursing home talks about “Fern,” then steals Avery’s dragonfly bracelet, she is moved to pity and refuses to press charges.
Simultaneously, a nursing home scandal breaks out, and her father’s stand on quality in nursing homes is questioned by those who point out Senator Stafford is rich enough to put his mother in a private facility with every amenity money can buy. Avery’s mother, whose ultimate concern is for the family name, the coming election, and how her husband’s secret cancer diagnosis can remain a secret applies pressure for Avery and Elliott to set a date to gain good publicity.
Intertwined through Avery’s story is the story of Queen, Brill, and their five children, the poorest of the poor, who live on a houseboat shanty but have an endless supply of love and pride. How these stories are interconnected and what significance it has for Avery and her family is the heart of the novel. What Avery finds out causes her to doubt her family and dig to get at the heart of Grandma Judy’s secret. What occurs along the many twists and turns unearthed by her investigation, which consumes Avery, keeps the reader up late, turning the pages. Surprises are the author’s forte, and just when you have it all figured out, some little detail is askew and sends one’s thinking mind back to square one. Throw in a little romance, a bit of music and hillbilly tradition, and you end up with one darned good read.