GodPretty in the Tobacco Field
Publication Date: 4/26/2016
My Rating: 4 Stars
“Beauty and sweetness weave a diaphanous fabric against the stark backdrop of poverty and cruelty.” --Sara Gruen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants and At the Water's Edge Nameless, Kentucky, in 1969 is a hardscrabble community where jobs are few and poverty is a simple fact--just like the hot Appalachian breeze or the pests that can wipe out a tobacco field in days. RubyLyn Bishop is luckier than some. Her God-fearing uncle, Gunnar, has a short fuse and high expectations, but he's given her a good home ever since she was orphaned at the age of five. Yet now, a month shy of her sixteenth birthday, RubyLyn itches for more. Maybe it's something to do with the paper fortunetellers RubyLyn has been making for townsfolk, each covered with beautifully wrought, prophetic drawings. Or perhaps it's because of Rainey Ford, an African-American neighbor who works alongside her in the tobacco field, and with whom she has a kinship, despite her uncle's worrisome shadow and the town's disapproval. RubyLyn's predictions are just wishful thinking, not magic at all, but through them she's imagining life as it could be, away from the prejudice and hardship that ripple through Nameless. Atmospheric, poignant, and searingly honest, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field follows RubyLyn through the course of one blazing summer, as heartbreaking revelations and life-changing decisions propel her toward a future her fortunetellers never predicted.
A special thank you to Kensington and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Beautiful covers (both book and audio) Kim Michele Richardson returns following her Southern debut of Liar’s Bench (2015) with GODPRETTY IN THE TOBACCO FIELD, another Southern charmer; a coming-of-age tale of one girl’s strong determination beyond the small town of Nameless, filled with dark secrets poverty, tobacco, injustice and hardship--replaced with hope, family, and dreams for a better life if you believe.
Richardson visited the backwoods and rural areas of Western Kentucky in Liar’s Bench. In GodPretty she explores Appalachia-- its darkly coal rich mountains and the hardscrabble people of Eastern Kentucky From the ugly tobacco fields Gunnar controls RubyLyn, with punishment. Anything to do with Gunnar and God, would mean punishment. However, RubyLyn is innocent, tender, and has a heart of gold. From ugly to beautiful. A story of poverty, oppression of Appalachian women in the sixties—the consequences, fears, and their limited futures. Beautifully written, a Southern backdrop, infused with art, history, and music--from racial strife and the limitations of the South—especially for women--a look through the innocent eyes of a beautiful young girl.
At fifteen, RubyLyn lives with her uncle Gunnar Royal, almost sixty years old, in 1969 in the South in Namleess, Kentucky. She works the tobacco field every day and continues to receive abuse, both emotional and physical by her uncle. He took her in ten years ago, and he had made it his mission and sole purpose to chase out her parents’ devils. Her daddy, the sin chaser and snake-handling pastor of Nameless, Kentucky’s Mountain Tent Tabernacle, died when she was four, and six months later her Mama passed as well. RubyLyn wonders why there is so much ugly. She misses her mama. Henny Stump, her best friend, is so poor that her family resorts to selling their new baby. Her other neighbors, Beau Crockett and his three boys, are trouble. At age, forty-four Rose is her salvation. Rose drives a truck and brings back items from Woolworths, to sell to the locals. She takes special care of RubyLyn as she knows she has no other female influences. From books, sketch pads, to frilly feminine treasures. She encourages her and her talents. She creates art out of ordinary tobacco paper. RubyLyn liked the word—"folk artists". Rose says artists need good paper, and new places to visit to be inspired. She loves to draw and create beautiful things on her fortune telling triangles. Making her feel alive and closer to her Mama. Her ticket out of this town and life.
Rainey Ford is a black field worker, and he always looks out for her. Over the past ten years she saw he had turned into a fine young man but a softness that made her heart sing. Gunnar did not care for Rainey’s lip, any more than RubyLyn’s sass--things he called sins. Will her uncle's heart ever soften? The time is approaching for the date of the 1969 Kentucky State Fair the following month. She has to win the prize money in order to get her a new life in Louisville. She would be sixteen in September and she knew if Rose made it there at thirteen…. she had a shot. She kept her small hinged box. Her daddy’s stuff was long gone, replaced with memories; a tiny next of rescued threads from Mama’s clothes, along with the dried tobacco leaves and looms that Rainey had given her with his promise. They first met when he was eight and she was five—growing up together. Back then he had asked her to marry him sealed with a kiss. Rainey is going off to Vietnam but they are in love and want to run away together, but of course, this would not be allowed. Of course, they know all too well, they will never be able to be together in this town. Black guys did not mix with white women. She knows if they can get away they could have a life together. She has read about places where they would be acceptable. They both know by staying in this town was as good as being dead. Then there was Baby Jane she had to protect. RubyLyn knew when she left, she was never returning to the tobacco field, and unfairness of life, and her mean Uncle. She has to believe in more than magic. Kim Richardson has a warm genuine way of drawing you into the Southern world, with vivid settings and insights of a young girl. Her passion for her Kentucky roots is reflected through her writing and research of the areas. Beyond the poverty and the hot dry tobacco field, and unfairness of life there is beauty. From dark secrets of the past, forbidden love, and of dreams. Readers will fall in love with RubyLyn! I enjoyed the author’s notes and the phrase she created: "GodPretty, to show starkness in the brutal and beautiful land and its people and mysteries. To Gunnar, the term applied to females, pushing his strict moral codes on RubyLyn. He wanted his niece to be pretty in the eyes of God so he could protect her when he was not around—her soul would shine. Ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions. Rich in history, character, magic, and especially land, which is an important theme of the book. Filled with music, and the sweet memories and excitement of youth and summers at the State Fair. How poverty affects learning, habits, choices, and self-worth. As with the soil and land, our souls need nourishment and cultivating. The agricultural community is strong in the Bluegrass State–Kentucky, and still leads the nation in burley tobacco production, with more miles of running water than any other state except Alaska. If you have not read Richardson’s“Liar’s Bench”, highly recommend.
for Kim Michele Richardson and GodPretty In The Tobacco Field
“Richardson’s deft second novel paints a picture of hard life and bright dreams…Richardson’s skill fully develops RubyLyn’s plight.”
– Publishers Weekly
"A powerful coming-of-age story . . . Ms. Richardson’s portrait of the neighboring families’ hopeless lives stands out as one of the book’s major achievements. That achievement includes pitch-perfect representation. This beautifully textured novel raises many challenges for its main characters to overcome and, as it comes to a close, many surprises. Saying any more would ruin it for you.” – Southern Literary Review
“Richardson’s latest contains beautifully drawn characters and honest, lyrical language. Through the author’s expressive dialogue and vivid descriptions, the textures of the rural Kentucky landscape – along with the aching emotions that come from RubyLyn, are felt. RubyLyn’s connection with Rainey is sweet, poignant, and tender. This powerful story will leave an impression on readers long after they complete it.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
“Setting is everything…The reader learns a great deal about the impact of President Johnson’s War on Poverty in rural Kentucky and, equally, about the place of women in that society in the late 60’s…Sympathetic characters whom readers will wish a happy ending.”– Booklist
"Kim Michele Richardson aptly portrays the impoverished life of the hill people with her images of the beauty yet hardship of the mountains as well as the way this particular world experienced discrimination in the sixties." - The New York Journal of Books
“A voice rich and authentic, steeped in the somber beauty that defines life in the South. Richardson knows this place well, and GodPretty sings of that honesty.”
--David Joy, author of Where All Light Tends to Go
“Richardson's brilliant writing made me feel as though I were transported back in time to poor parched Nameless, Kentucky, and actually there witnessing this poignant heartfelt story. To be able to do that to a reader is a sign of a truly gifted novelist.”
--Charles Belfoure, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Architect
"When a tale of days gone by, in a place you've never been, feels as vivid as your own memory, you know you're in the hands of a great writer. Lyrical, wrenching, and riveting, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field is a triumph." --Jamie Mason "A reader always recognizes when the author has poured her soul into a body of work. GodPretty in the Tobacco Field is a tender, beautifully written second novel." --Ann Hite
"Richardson writes Kentucky. Her stories aren’t just set in our state. They express in their very words the uniqueness of the place. She has truly found her her voice and people love it." -Derby Rotten Scoundrels Chapter, SinC (Sisters In Crime)
About the Author
Kim Michele Richardson resides in the rolling hills of Kentucky where she is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and an advocate for the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence. Liar’s Bench is her first novel. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child.
She is a contributor to the Huffington Post. Kim Michele's second novel, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field will be out in stores Spring 2016. Website
“I love exploring my birthplace in my writings; the beautiful, brutal and mysterious Kentucky land and its people. I have traveled to mostly every corner and nook of Kentucky and am always searching for another cranny to discover. I impart my novels with my fierce love for the land, showcase its intriguing people, history, forgotten folksong, comforting food and the unusual and cherished traditions, myths and legends of the region.
By Kim Michele Richardson ISBN: 9781617737336 Publisher: Kensington Publication Date: 4/28/2015 Format: Paperback My Rating: 5 Stars Debut Novel
LIAR’S BENCH, a powerful southern debut novel, by Kim Michele Richardson, a multi-generational chilling mystery, with a mix of coming-of-age, humor, and historical fiction--covering a century of deceit. Read Review