Verdict: DAUGHTER OF THE TOWN is a sweet and sometimes inspiring coming-of-age story, set in mid-century small-town Texas. The well-written novel could use more careful editing toward the end, and perhaps a closer examination of the town’s warts to balance the sweetness.
Reading much like a memoir, DAUGHTER OF THE TOWN provides plenty of small-town Texas charm with a dose of inspiration and baby-boomer nostalgia. Following Claire, a young girl adopted as an infant by the town lawyer and his wife, the real star of the novel isn’t Claire, but the protagonist’s wretchedly poor childhood friend Libby.
Quickly, we learn that Libby’s father died in a construction accident, leaving his widow destitute with 9-year-old Libby and her four younger siblings. Despite assistance from the town’s churches, the desperate mother releases her five children to be adopted by different families throughout the state. Libby ends up being taken in by Claire’s aunt and uncle on their huge ranch. Claire accompanies her friend, to help her settle in to life with her emotionally reserved, but kind foster family.
The heart of the novel concerns the two girls as they grow up in the mostly idyllic town and into their teenage and college years. Although the characters are appealing, the plot meanders through this section with little conflict and chapters that feel like disconnected anecdotes function as markers set to show the passage of time until the girls are off to college. There is almost nothing in these chapters demonstrating either of the girls maturing, which gives the novel a curious quality that lacks immediacy and makes the mild obstacles the characters face feel even less pressing.
Sadly, we lose track mostly of Libby while Claire tackles college and love. Well into the final sections, conflict and tragedy arrive for Claire. In the midst of this, Libby reappears in the story and an unsatisfying ending ensues. Readers may wish for Libby to be a larger part of the story at this point, but sadly, her story isn’t told beyond a simple note explaining her career choice.
DAUGHTER OF THE TOWN is not really a plot-driven novel, so the relatively weak resolution isn’t that disappointing. This is primarily a love letter to small town life and dealing with the misfortunes that come your way. It’s a pleasant read, mostly well written. The final chapters suffer from poor editing, as Claire, our first-person narrator shifts inexplicably into third person, then back, sometimes in the same paragraph. Worse is the author’s choice to sum up the progress of the small town through the eyes of a now adult Claire. Mentioning for the first time the formerly segregated black slums which had been razed only highlights the lack of earlier mentions. For a book that so focuses on describing both the town and the plight of a child caught in abject poverty, this leaves a somewhat bitter aftertaste.
DAUGHTER OF THE TOWN is a sweet and sometimes inspiring coming of age story set in mid-century small-town Texas. The well-written novel could use more careful editing toward the end, and perhaps a closer examination of the town’s warts to balance the sweetness.
~J.V. Bolkan for IndieReader