Several years ago, my mother-in-law passed on a book to me titled gods in Alabama about a young woman who returns to her hometown after finally “getting out” after high school graduation. She’d moved to Chicago and sworn to herself that she’d never return, only to be forced to return ten years later to face the ghosts of her past.
I read dozens of books every year, so – while I read a lot of really good books – it’s rare that one sticks with me. But that’s what happened with gods in Alabama. It took over a tiny corner of my brain and, every once in a while, I’d feel the need to pull out that file and ponder over the characters. It was with great excitement, then, that I realized that the author – Joshilyn Jackson – had written another book featuring a very minor character from the first. The title: Backseat Saints. Even the title was enough to grab my interest!
Backseat Saints tells the story of Rose Mae Lolley who was abandoned by her mother at age 8 and left to be raised by her abusive drunkard father. Like Arlene Fleet in gods in Alabama, Rose Mae can’t wait to escape her hometown and her father’s brutal beatings. But history has a way of repeating itself. Though she recreates herself as Ro Grandee, the outwardly perfect wife of Thom Grandee, she continues to be that same beaten and broken little girl…only this time at the hands of her husband and his forever question, “Who is he?”
When she can finally take no more and realizes that her life is in serious jeopardy, the former Rose Mae Lolley, who has already once recreated herself as Ro Grandee, recreates herself once again as Lily Rose Wheeler. With a new identity, she flees her husband and begins to retrace her steps back to the ghosts of her past…all the way back to her abusive father and the mother who abandoned her, and begins a desperate search for the one-time boyfriend who was the only man who’d ever shown her kindness.
Backseat Saints was a wonderful read and so much more than I’d expected. The subject matter – spousal abuse – could easily have been a sad novel about the abuse of one woman and her hopelessness to escape. Instead, the book was one of suspense, coupled with a bit of humor and a whole lot of Southernisms.
Backseats Saints is not a sequel to gods in Alabama, nor do the two books need to be read in order, or even together. The are completely independent works and a reader could choose to read either book and not the other without “missing” anything. The interesting thing about the books, however, is that the main characters from the two books cross paths and – if you read both books – you get a different perspective from each character on a shared high school classmate. One is trying to run away from the past and that classmate, and the other is desperately attempting to find him.
This book is available at the Rochester Public Library, as is gods in Alabama by the same author.