Nell And Lady

Reviewed by Amy Gruzesky

What starts out seemingly as a story of an unlikely and extremely close friendship between Lady, the daughter of white, wealthy, Southern parents, and Nell, the daughter of their African American, single mother housekeeper, evolves into a story encompassing so much more–sexual violence, alcoholism, terminal illness, adultery, divorce, class issues, teen angst, and personal redemption.

Nell and Lady are born four months apart in Charleston, South Carolina. Nell is the daughter of Mavis, the Bellemores’ housekeeper, and a violent man that Mavis has escaped from. Lady, short for Adelaide, is the daughter of Willa Bellemore, a member of Southern high society, and her investment banker husband.

Despite their differences and the expectations of Charleston society in the 1970s, Willa and Mavis forge a strong friendship that carries through to their daughters, Lady and Nell, who grow up in the same house, becoming best friends that are more like sisters.

When Mavis unexpectedly dies when Nell is only fourteen, Willa formally adopts the girl, making her Lady’s legal sister. However, during Lady’s sweet sixteen party, a violent act against one of them causes a rift between the two girls that lasts more than thirty years, affecting each of their lives and the lives of those around them in lasting and devastating ways.

It is not until Willa, diagnosed with lung cancer, and wanting to see Nell before she dies, forces these two sisters and former best friends back to each other, where they discover that unbeknownst to them, their own two teenage children, Regan and Booker, are best friends.

The initial reunion between Lady and Nell does not go well. As they go about trying to avoid each other and continue on in their separate lives, circumstances beyond their control, along with resurfacing memories and emotions and their children’s desire to learn of their history and the tragic events that severed their families’ ties and caused the women’s animosity toward each other gradually nudge these two back into each other’s lives.

What transpires over the course of the next few months is a story of how these characters are forced to re-evaluate and rebuild their lives and choose how and/or if they want to rebuild their relationships and become a true family once more.

Despite some of the heavy topics, this book was an enjoyable and emotionally satisfying read. It would also appeal to young adult readers as well, because of Regan and Booker’s story, which is a fairly well-developed sub-plot of the novel.

The only drawback is that I found some of the dialogue to be a bit corny and preachy, and some story points too simplistic at times. There were also a few surreal moments in the book, such as when Willa has nightly talks with her deceased friend Mavis, which I found to be a bit over the top, almost reminiscent of The Shack by William P. Young.

However, the author uses these as a vehicle to drive the characters’ development and the story’s plot and conclusion forward, which I did find satisfying.

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