cover image The Two Lives of Sara

The Two Lives of Sara

Catherine Adel West. Park Row, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7783-3322-7

West draws on characters from her 2020 novel Saving Ruby King in this dramatic if uneven story of a young Black mother who builds a makeshift family. In 1960s Memphis, sharp-tongued Sara King lives and works at the boarding house of the formidable Mama Sugar, who asks no questions of Sara about her background or her obvious resistance to mothering her son, Lebanon, whom she gave birth to shortly after arriving from Chicago. Sara, though, surprises elementary schoolteacher Jonas Coulter, who has taken a special interest in Mama Sugar’s grandson Will, by being well-read. Will’s shiftless father, Amos, runs afoul of a loan shark, leading to him being beaten and then the arson of the boarding house. As Mama Sugar rebuilds, romance blossoms between Sara and Jonas, who does not hesitate to marry her even after she reveals her reason for fleeing Chicago while pregnant. Just as Sara seems headed for bliss, tragedy strikes, sending her reeling. Though the story tends to drag, West demonstrates careful attention to the realities of the Jim Crow era and the burgeoning civil rights movement. The moments of crisis and quiet reflection will please fans of historical family sagas. Agent: Beth Marshea, Ladderbird Agency. (Sept.)