cover image The Last Carolina Girl

The Last Carolina Girl

Meagan Church. Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-72825-715-0

Church debuts with a dynamic and wrenching tale of family secrets and eugenics. Leah Payne’s mother died in childbirth, and when her lumberjack father dies in 1935, she’s taken away at 14 from her rural North Carolina home and forced to work as a “helpmate” for the Griffins, a well-off family near Charlotte. A closet-size bedroom on the back porch, verbal abuse, and a slap from Mrs. Griffin make Leah feel unwanted in her new home. She tries to befriend the Griffin children, but Mrs. Griffin keeps her isolated and busy with chores. She isn’t allowed to go to school, and is generally viewed as a problem. Then a local doctor, who advocates for the forced sterilization of the “feebleminded,” takes Leah as a patient at Mrs. Griffin’s urging. The plot surges toward a powerful crescendo with an action that is both cruel and savage, and a revelation of Mrs. Griffin’s secrets. Church effectively dramatizes historical injustice in this searing tale, and adds lush details to descriptions of Leah’s life before Charlotte. This author is off to a strong start. Agent: Rachel Cone-Gorham, RXD Agency. (Mar.)