Book lovers, I want to tell you about an unlikely place where you can find a treasure trove of great reads at a bargain: Ollie’s. I don’t know if there are Ollie’s all over the country, or if they are only in the south east, but this discount store is like a Big Lots, only cheaper. It’s the kind of store where you never know what you’ll find. Crockpots for twelve dollars? Last year’s holiday Barbie for ten bucks? Easter peeps for fifty cents in July? One thing you can always find are books. Whenever a bookstore closes, this is the book heaven where all their volumes end up. They have an entire section of Christian fiction, and no matter what has brought me to Ollie’s, I have to go to this section.
It was in this section that I found a book for only ninety-nine cents called Emma, Mr. Knightly, and Chili Slaw Dogs. The title intrigued me, the price couldn’t be beat, so I bought it (along with a couple of other titles, I have to confess). I didn’t know that it was the second book in a series by Mary Jane Hathaway called Jane Austen Takes the South. Luckily, each of the three books in the series can be read alone. Though the ending felt rushed, I liked it enough to read the others. Book one, Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits, wasn’t as good as the first one ai read. However, I’m glad I went ahead and read book three because it was my favorite.
I have to get one major thing out of the way before I review this book: the cover is white-washed. I don’t throw around buzz words just to sound “woke” - I am being one hundred percent serious. The female protagonist of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornbread is black, but the woman on the cover is white. It made me so upset, I almost didn’t want to review this book. However, the story itself is so wonderful, I changed my mind. In the book’s defense, none of the covers fit the stories in this series. I’m guessing whoever designed the covers heard “The South” and decided to just put three generic, slightly Southern debutante looking dresses on the cover and call it a day. No one wears dresses like that in any of these books. I personally wish they would re-do the covers for these. But the old saying is “never judge a book by it’s cover,” right? Well, definitely don’t with these.
The premise of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornbread is that the protagonists, Lucy Crawford and Jeremiah (Jem) Chevy, have been reunited ten years after their star-crossed teen romance came to a heartbreaking end. Lucy broke it off with the lame excuse that she wanted to see other people, but in reality her parents didn’t approve of Jem. Lucy’s family tree goes all the way back to before the Civil War and includes a Civil War hero. Jem’s the son of a single mom who got pregnant out of wedlock as a teen. Lucy’s family is wealthy and lives in an historic antebellum home. Jem lives in a trailer by the river and grew up on food stamps.
Lucy is black. Jem is white.
Yes, you read all of that correctly. This book doesn’t fit the Southern narrative most of us have heard. But as a Southern girl myself, I can confirm that it is based in truth. When I was teaching sixth grade, my students and I went to the local African American museum. While there, we saw a portrait of a wealthy plantation owner and his family - and they were black. Shockingly, they even owned slaves. This reality was also in an American Girl book I read with my daughter, about the character Marie Grace who lives in New Orleans. The American Girl doll’s family doesn’t own slaves, but they are wealthy, and other African Americans in New Orleans that they know do own slaves.
Now, please don’t misinterpret this. These facts don’t erase how horrible slavery is. It doesn’t erase the prejudices African Americans have suffered in the South. It doesn’t erase the racism that still exists there. And wealthy, black plantation owners were the rare exception, not the rule.
However, it is equally racist to ignore African Americans who were successful in the South. With all of this talk lately of erasing the word “antebellum” and closing down all plantations, it’s important to learn the complete history. Or else we risk erasing important parts of our collective stories. Lucy is a character who believes in this whole heartedly. She has a doctorate in Civil War history and works at a living history museum on a Civil War battlefield (yet another way this book flips the script). In one scene, she defends her work to preserve the history there, ironically, to a white woman. Lucy also is proud of one of her ancestors who fought in the Union Colored Troops during the Civil War because he didn’t have to. He was wealthy. He was in the South. But he knew his brothers and sisters were being oppressed, so he fought against his own state, his own town, to do what was right. (And to be clear - the Crawfords didn’t own slaves in this book.) Lucy is also fighting to save her family’s historic, antebellum home from foreclosure.
Which means that things have completely flipped since Lucy last saw Jem when they were both eighteen. Now Jem is a wealthy, successful doctor who did his residency at the famous John Hopkins. Women are flocking around him like moths to a flame. Lucy’s family, on the other hand, faces financial ruin due to her father’s mismanagement of the estate and her younger sister’s maxed out credit cards. Not that it means her family has changed their minds about Jem. After all, he may be a successful doctor, but he still came from the trailer park.
And he’s still white. I know, it isn’t a popular thing to say, but this book explores racism on both sides. Lucy and Jem truly fell in love, and honestly, they never stopped loving each other, yet they are from a culture that still looks askance at that type of relationship. Do they overcome it? Well, I don’t want to give that away, of course!
As heavy as all of that sounds, and as fascinating as it was to read, there was a lot of humor in this book as well. There’s also the comedy of errors from two people who don’t realize the other person still loves them. Misunderstandings abound with sometimes humorous and sometimes frustrating results. It doesn’t help that both Jem and Lucy are quiet introverts who don’t always speak up for themselves. They both suffer from the Southern malady of being far too nice. I wish I could tell you about the absolute most hilarious scene in the book, but I can’t because it’s the book’s climax! Let’s just say Lucy and Jem throw Southern racial stereotypes completely out the window in the most dramatic and hilarious way possible!
Overall, I absolutely loved this book. Just ignore the cover.
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.