I’d hear some chatter about DOLLBABY while I was at BEA, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy. Finally, a copy came into the library system where I live and I snatched it up!
DOLLBABY is a wonderful coming of age story, set in the South in the 1960’s. Liberty “Ibby” Bell is just twelve years old when her father dies in an accident and her mother drops her off to visit her grandmother, never to return for her. Ibby is a smart and plucky young girl. She loved her father and misses him terribly. She even misses her rather useless and self-centered mother. However, Fannie, her grandmother is quite a character and her unpredictable behavior and closet full of secrets keeps the plot moving. The household is actually run by two long-term servants: Queenie and her daughter Dollbaby. Queenie and Dollbaby take Ibby under their wing, and Fannie tries to rise to the occasion as grandmother. Ibby has questions about the family’s past – but learns early on that asking Miss Fannie questions only leads to disaster. What exactly happened in the house in the past and how does it still have a hold on Miss Fannie? Added to this are several subplots, including the fight for civil rights during this time period and Dollbaby’s quest for personal freedom.
Ibby’s search for her family’s past history is actually a search for connection and for family in its basest form. She seeks to belong and form an identity, left bereft as she is by the loss of her parents. Miss Fannie is a multi-faceted character as well: just when I think I understand her, more information is revealed to show that she is more than one initially thought. I would have loved even more backstory on Queenie and Dollbaby!
I really enjoyed this story, which reminded me a bit of SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES. I love stories set in the South and I love coming of age stories with strong female characters. This is Ms. McNeal’s first novel and I look forward to more.
You can see this book online, or get it where I got mine: at your local public library!