cover image The Ballad of Jessie Pearl

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl

Shannon Hitchcock. Namelos, $18.95 (140p) ISBN 978-1-60898-142-7

Hitchcock’s debut novel introduces 14-year-old Jessie Pearl, who endures more than her fair share of hardships, beginning with the death of her mother. Opening in 1922, the story follows the daily activities on the family’s North Carolina tobacco farm. The youngest of three sisters, Jessie hopes to attend a teachers’ college and escape the monotony of becoming a wife and running a household. But when her sister Carrie contracts tuberculosis, Jessie puts her life and future plans on the line. Carrie’s dying wish is for Jessie to care for her newborn son, Ky, and while Jessie loves the infant (and falls in love with a neighbor boy), she agonizes over which path to choose—follow her dreams or stay and support the family. Hitchcock’s story is gently and lovingly written, with elements drawn from her own family history. Its detailed honesty about the particular struggles of the period, especially for strong women (Maude, a no-nonsense midwife, is particularly memorable), is significant. The book spans several years, and the question of what Jessie will choose should keep readers invested. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)