By Tiffany Baker
Published January 2009 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: the publicist, Newman Communications
Before she was even born, Truly Plaice was the town curiousity; the townspeople placed bets on how big she would be when she was born. When her mother died in childbirth, she left behind poor homely Truly, but her sister Serena Jane, the epitome of feminine perfection, and a grieving husband who had no idea how to care for his daughters. They're soon left in the care of two different households during the days. Serena Jane spends her days at the home of the minister, where his wife showers her with beautiful clothes and spoils her. Truly is sent to spend her time on the farm of the town outcast, August Dyerson, and his wife and speechless daughter. When Truly's father also passes away, these become the girls' permanent homes.
Although Truly grows up being ridiculed by all of the children and despised by the one-room school's teacher, she has a couple of good friends. Amelia Dyerson, who begins to speak, but only when Truly is around, and Marcus, undersized and a genius the teacher doesn't know what to do with. Serena Jane is at the center of everything. Unfortunately, that also brings her to the attention of Bob Bob Morgan, son of the town's doctor. Bob Bob becomes obsessed with Serena Jane until one day he does the unthinkable to capture Serena Jane as his bride.
When Serena Jane flees town, leaving behind an unhappy marriage and an eight-year-0ld son, Truly is called in to help around Bob Morgan's household and to care for her nephew.
"The morning my sister left him, Bob Bob woke up and knew it without opening his eyes. It was the absence of the usual odors in the house - the cottony scent of her breath captured in the hollow of the pillow next to him, the slightly acrid aroma of coffee wafting up the stairs, followed by the grease of bacon frying. He lay perfectly still in the bed, his nose twitching, but there was nothing."
Truly and Serena Jane's son, Bobbie, are never allowed to grieve for her when it is discovered that she has died and it takes it's toll on their relationship. And Bob Morgan takes up right where he left off when he left town to become a doctor, never missing an opportunity to be mean to Truly. While in the Morgan house, though, Truly discovers the secret of a quilt that has been in the Morgan family for years, a quilt made by the wife of the first Dr. Robert Morgan, a woman rumored to be a witch. Truly begins to use the secrets found on the quilt for healing purposes but finds that there are just some things that can't be healed.
Baker has crafted a unique story, filled with interesting, well-developed characters. I really became attached to poor Truly, not only for what she has lost but also for the fact that she doesn't always seem to realize how lucky she is. Even as she is being teased as a child, she is developing friendships that will last a lifetime, something that is hard to have in real life. You really can't help but cheer for Truly and hope that, somehow, her condition will right itself and that she'll be able to lead a normal life and find some happiness.
I did think the book dragged in some places and was, occasionally, a bit repetitive. And while some of the writing is beautiful, sometimes it can be overwrought and cliched. But, overall, the story rescues the book from any flaws. And Baker has done something here that's difficult to do. She's written a book that deals with death, grief, rape, suicide, and homosexuality in a small town, without allowing the story to be weighed down by these things. Despite all of it, I was always filled with hope for Truly.