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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

When the Jessamine Grows

Narrator: Tiffany Morgan

Tantor Audio

ISBN: 9798855513684

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date: 01/23/2024

Format: Audible/e-book

My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)

Talk of impending war is a steady drumbeat throughout North Carolina, though Joetta McBride pays it little heed. She and her husband, Ennis, have built a modest but happy life for themselves, raising two sons, fifteen-year-old Henry, and eleven-year-old Robert, on their small subsistence farm. They do not support the Confederacy's position on slavery, but Joetta considers her family to be neutral, believing this is simply not their fight.

Her opinion is not favored by many in their community, including Joetta's own father-in-law, Rudean. A staunch Confederate supporter, he fills his grandsons' heads with stories about the glory of battle and the Southern cause until one night Henry runs off to join the war. At Joetta's frantic insistence, Ennis leaves to find their son and bring him home.

But soon weeks pass with no word from father or son and Joetta is battered by the strain of running a farm with so little help. As the country becomes further entangled in the ramifications of war, Joetta finds herself increasingly at odds with those around her—until one act of kindness brings her family to the edge of even greater disaster.

My Review

Southern storyteller Donna Everhart returns following The Saints of Swallow Hill with her sixth novel, WHEN THE JESSAMINE GROWS —a compelling tale exploring a difficult time in our nation's history through the eyes of Joetta McBride, a courageous woman bound by the neutral values of her family's lifestyle.

Set in North Carolina Nash County 1861:

Joetta McBride does not like conflict. She and her husband, Ennis, have built a modest, happy life for themselves, raising two sons, 15-year-old Henry and 11-year-old Robert, on their small farm.

They do not support the Confederacy's position on slavery, and Joetta considers their family to be neutral and not their fight.

However, her opinionated father-in-law, Rudean, a Confederate supporter, starts filling her son's heads with stories of battle and the Southern cause until one night, Henry runs off to join the war. They are frantic, and Joetta sends Ennis to find their son and bring him home.

But then there is no word from her husband or son, and she runs a farm alone with little help from her younger son. She finds herself at odds with those around her, and things worsen.

Joetta McBride's beliefs pit her against the majority, leading to danger and complications. While she suffered greatly and lost much, she remains steadfast, a heroic, resilient woman with strong convictions and a deep love for her family. Readers will root for her to the end!

Everhart dazzles with her meticulous historical research, vivid descriptions, and well-developed characters. As she mentions in her Author's note and discussion questions, The Civil War was one of the most complex and contentious times in our nation's history, with both sides resolute in their beliefs. The McBrides were an exception and took a position of neutrality.

When Joetta allows Union soldiers access to her well, her father-in-law resents it and stirs up trouble. There is strife among the family, and Robert resents his mother.

When Joetta steps up and takes in a young Union soldier, she becomes a substitute mother for him, helping her simultaneously.

The war affected Joetta and her family in many ways, from multiple losses and setbacks. WHEN THE JESSAMINE GROWS explores strong themes of loyalty, betrayal, community, and family, all prominent in the novel.

I always learn something when reading one of Donna's books with a vast knowledge of North Carolina history. (a native) Some of us need to remember about the Border States; many had secret, unbiased views.

I enjoyed reading about the breakdown of the population during this time. It was vastly rural, with almost a third of the population being white with slaves, and only three percent was considered upper-class. (doctors, lawyers, or business leaders who lived in plantations and owned slaves). Another twenty-five percent were middle class as farmers, merchants, traders, and suppliers. They would have owned less than twenty slaves.

Then there were the families like the McBrides. They comprised- the remaining percentage of NC's population, 60-65% of yeoman farmers or skilled laborers. The subsistence farmers grew enough to feed themselves and their livestock. They were not slaveholders. Some of these people never wanted to be a part of the fight. I enjoyed how the Author skillfully wrote the novel from this perspective.

I highly recommend the novel if you enjoy good historical fiction, especially since it is set in North Carolina. I have read all her books, and she always surprises you with something fascinating. Thank you, Donna, for this beautiful story—a reminder when people turn against one another during these horrible times. I love books featuring strong women, especially during historical times.

I had the pleasure of reading the e-book and the accompanying audiobook narrated by Tiffany Morgan.

Thanks to Kensington Books, Tantor Audio, and NetGalley for a gifted digital reading copy and advanced listening review copy for an honest opinion.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 5 Stars

Pub Date: Jan 23, 2024

About the Author

Donna Everhart is the USA Today bestselling author of authentic, vivid Southern fiction, including the Southeastern Library Association Award-winning The Road to Bittersweet, Indie Next Pick and Amazon Book of the Month, The Education of Dixie Dupree, The Forgiving Kind, The Moonshiner’s Daughter, and The Saints of Swallow Hill.

Her sixth novel, When the Jessamine Grows, releases January 23, 2024.

Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, she now lives with her husband in a small town in the Sandhills region where she is currently working on her next novel. She’s a member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and is the host for the MaryJanesFarm Book Club. WEBSITE







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