HOW I LEFT THE GREAT STATE OF TENNESSEE AND WENT ON TO BETTER THINGS

Joe Jackson, Author
Joe Jackson, Author . Carroll & Graf $15 (357p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1284-7
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The adventures of a plucky, restless 16-year-old in 1960s Appalachia come to life in Jackson's heartfelt, meandering first novel. Tenacious, outspoken Dahlia Jean Coker knows there's more to life than a dead-end waitress job and her "death by boredom" existence in Wattles, Tenn. When the diner she works in is robbed by a father and son team, Dahlia spots her opportunity and steals off with the brawny son, Cole Younger. Cole's father, Twitch, is left behind, boiling with resentment and a desire for revenge, but Dahlia and Cole are armed with cash, young love and wild abandon. They set off on a whirlwind chase across the South, with Twitch and Dahlia's wacky, duplicitous mother, Burma, close behind. Dahlia and Twitch adroitly alternate as narrators, and both provide thrilling commentary when a massive flood threatens the region and sends all parties careening across Tennessee, landing them face to face with the Ku Klux Klan, civil rights activists and Freedom Riders. In their search for Dahlia and Cole, Twitch and Burma get into plenty of trouble of their own, though love isn't in the cards for them. After a few revelations, second thoughts and an elated arrival in Key West, Dahlia and Cole meet a teenaged Cuban refugee named Rebeca, and all set sail to return her to her homeland. Though the story is told with zest and brims with drawling dialogue, the overload of frenzied escapades may wear some readers out, though others will appreciate Jackson's range and determination. Author tour. (Mar.)

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