“My Sweet Vidalia” by Deborah Mantella

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“My Sweet Vidalia” by Deborah MantellaMy Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella
Published: October 6th 2015 by Turner Publishing
Genres: Fiction (General)
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
Source: TLC Book Tours
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My Sweet Vidalia by Deborah Mantella is the story of a young woman in the 1950s American South who overcomes considerable hardship and discovers her own inner strength.  Vidalia gets pregnant while in high school and has a shotgun wedding.  Unfortunately, her new husband is a terrible person and abuses her to the point that she miscarries her pregnancy.  The spirit of the daughter that Vidalia never had narrates the story, providing comfort to Vidalia when it seems like she’s alone in the world.

Leo Tolstoy opened Anna Karenina with the line, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  While I wish that there was more happiness in this novel, I was struck by the depth of the stories of each of the characters and families that touch Vidalia’s life.  The town in which she lives is inhabited by many broken families, each of which gradually finds healing as the story progresses.  For example, Vidalia’s own parents started their relationship with hardship; her mother was pregnant, and married a man whose genitals had been injured and who could no longer have children.  Her parents’ relationship was tenuous at best, and Vidalia grew up in a house where certain things just weren’t talked about.  Another example is Ruby Pearl, a black woman whom Vidalia and her children befriend.  Ruby once had a happy family, but her family fell victim to racist violence.  And yet despite her own problems, Ruby becomes Vidalia’s closest friend and offers her more support than any living person ever has.

My Sweet Vidalia is incredibly well-written.  Mantella uses Southern dialect in a way that feels authentic, but without sacrificing readability.  Her use of language is almost poetic, and you feel as if you can truly hear the characters’ voices and personalities.  They spring to life off of the pages.

While My Sweet Vidalia had many strengths, it ultimately wasn’t for me.  Even though the story progresses toward Vidalia’s empowerment, for much of the book she is beaten down to the point that she doesn’t believe in her own inner strength, and there were many scenes where she faced cruelty that made my stomach churn.  The subject matter made the story incredibly difficult to read on an emotional level.  It’s hella depressing.  It’s so depressing that it made me borrow slang from the West Coast to adequately describe how depressing it is!  I’m more of an escapist reader, and this was a little too real for me.

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