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Racial tension jumps through time in THE SELAH BRANCH

By Ted Neill

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Racial tension in small-town America combines with time-travel in THE SELAH BRANCH to deliver a worthwhile message for the modern age, albeit one that could benefit from the pruning skills of a good editor.

A young black woman is sent to conduct medical research in a struggling town in West Virginia, where her preconceived notions of racism in small-town America is both challenged and vindicated.

Kenia Dezy, the protagonist of Ted Neill’s book, THE SELAH BRANCH, is a young woman of color who, in a case of reverse racism, seems only able to see the worst in anyone not sharing her skin tone. This would have been more palatable if the author had not used this character as a proxy for preaching to the reader about the social injustices that have been perpetrated since the first Europeans set foot on American soil, up to and including his opinions of the current Trump administration, gender equality, LGBTQ issues and healthy nutrition. While much of the message the author is trying to convey is important and needs to be heard, the way in which it is delivered can be vastly improved upon. This is where the novel would benefit from a good editor who could advise on what to keep, what to discard and how best to convey the message without beating the reader over the head with it.

It’s only once Kenia gets to know the inhabitants and her own prejudices start to give way to understanding, the words of her parents that “no one is just one thing” dawning upon her, that the story truly takes off and becomes interesting. Among others, we meet a recovering drug addict, two brothers who take pride in their town’s history and still has hope for the future, a young alcoholic who has lost all hope and his long-suffering mother, and a family of entrepreneurial siblings who rise above their limited circumstances.

At first, Kenia’s unusual ability to jump through time seemed like an unnecessary plot contrivance, one that takes much too long to develop. However, as the story progresses the relevance of the disaster that occurred in the early 1950s becomes clearer, and the devastating connection to Kenia’s own family comes to light. As Kenia races to correct the past wrong, the story finally picks up pace and becomes an enjoyable read.

THE SELAH BRANCH suffers from a few unfortunate proofreading errors, the inclusion of enlightening yet irrelevant information and a heavy-handed dose of moralizing, but is a story worth reading. The character’s personal growth, combined with an action-packed and satisfying ending, makes for a novel that, if edited with a sensitive touch, could become a very important read.

~ Suneé Jones for IndieReader