Verdict: SOUTH OF EVERYTHING is a coming-of-age journey with poignant moments, distinct characters, and a powerful message about love in a time of harsh race relations.
SOUTH OF EVERYTHING follows the story of a precocious and thoughtful young girl as she grows up on her wealthy family’s plantation in west Tennessee during the 1940s. As she befriends her family’s servants and documents her adventures with them in an environment that’s still heavily fractured with racism, she comes to develop a perspective that’s much more enlightened than the majority of the adults around her.
This novel is written with vivid detail, giving way to an incredibly vibrant setting and credible playground for an adolescent. The story is conveyed through protagonist Missy Sara’s first-person point of view and takes on her internal dialogue with clarity and fresh spirit. As she enjoys her days on the farm, she’s constantly filled with questions — and her childlike enthusiasm and perception of the world around her doesn’t ever waver. Even up until the last page, when she’s just turned sixteen does she still retain a very rosy and innocent way of observing the people and events around her.
Missy Sara’s world captures the Southern lifestyle, diving into her routine moments of eating tasty barbeque, seeing snakes by the pond, and riding her family’s horses. The description of her family’s annual barbecue displays the savory and rich way in which her everyday experiences are conveyed: “The buffet tables outside the shed were loaded down with green and white coleslaw, yellow and white potato salad, black barrels of baked beans, and pink half-moon slices of watermelon with black teardrop seeds. As the chicken parts and pulled-pork pieces came off the barbecue shoulders, the table loaded up with them, and everyone filled a red-checkered paper plate and sat down inside the shed.”
Author Audrey Taylor Gonzalez deftly weaves in how Missy Sara is able to develop a worldview that’s vastly different than that of her small-minded mother. She spends more time with the family’s help and her grandfather’s beloved black friend, Old Thomas, listening to him tell stories and take her to a magical Lolololo tree in the back pasture of the farm. Since he’s her favorite companion, she seems to love him more than her actual parents, confiding in him and taking his words more seriously than anyone else. With the historical backdrop of the 1940s and 1950s for this story, the events that Missy Sara undergoes are poignant, showcasing both the best moments and worst tragedies that can be impressed upon a young mind.
Since the novel follows Missy Sara from her first memory at six years old before living on the farm to her getting to drive at sixteen years old, it captures a thorough narrative of ten of the most formative years of a young girl’s life. However, there are moments where it just seems to document what’s happening to her and around her, without much else driving the plot forward. It’s an insight and multi-faceted glimpse into her world, but there’s not much else conflict besides the various, disparate episodes that she runs into on the farm.
SOUTH OF EVERYTHING is a coming-of-age journey with poignant moments, distinct characters, and a powerful message about love in a time of harsh race relations.