From a place where you don't have to run away to find yourself, this novel's young heroine, Berry, joins the ranks of other memorable and spirited girl narrators such as Bone in "Bastard Out of Carolina," Kaye Gibbon's Ellen Foster, Lily Owens in The Secret Life of Bees, and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.
Kincaid's fourth novel (after Crossing Blood; Balls; Verbena) is a deliciously intimate portrayal of the sunstruck small town of Pinetta, Fla., as seen through the eyes of Berry, a 13-year-old trying to make sense of adult indiscretions and her own sexual awakening. Berry's father, Ford, is the town's self-righteous school principal; her mother, Ruth, has a crush on the preacher; her good-looking older brother, Sowell, has his "mind... on tits"; her younger brother, Wade is a specialist in "elaborate animal funerals." When Ford mysteriously disappears in the middle of a tornado with Rennie, the town's tragic teenage wannabe starlet, Berry and her family become the subject of much gossip and attention. In her father's absence, her mother shifts her attentions to a rich, hot-tempered neighbor, and Berry develops a crush on Raymond, a smooth-talking convict in town to help clean up after the storm. When Raymond saves Berry's life by coming between her and two rattlesnakes, it's she who fearlessly volunteers to suck the poison out of his leg. Hungry for affection, Berry ultimately gets what she's after, though when she's had it, she's not sure what to make of it. Narrated with childlike honesty and dead-on Southern flavor ("Used to be we would all get in the tub like a can of worms spilled into shallow ditch water"), this is a sticky, sultry gem.