7/12/22; 384 pages
The Floating Girls by Lo Patrick is a very highly recommended coming-of-age domestic drama, mystery, and a fine example of Southern fiction. This is an excellent debut novel.
Twelve-year-old Kay Whitaker and her family live off the beaten path by the marshlands in Bledsoe, Georgia. Kay, the youngest in her family, has two older brothers, Peter and Freddy. Her older sister, Sarah-Anne, is unusual, usually non-verbal, and often just stands in the yard "like a twig in mud." Their father, Clay, is habitually unemployed and their mother, Sue-Bess, is distant and emotionally absent. Kay is a feisty, opinionated, talkative, and lonely girl who is always at odds with the rest of her family.
When she is out running in the marshland one day, she comes across a
house on stilts and a boy about her age, Andy Webber. From this point on
she is fascinated by Andy and his father, Nile, and wants to go over to
his house everyday or invite him to her house to play. Her father
immediately gets angry and tells her to stay away from the Webbers. This
proves to be impossible for Kay, much as it seems impossible to keep
"the people from the state" from routinely showing up at their house, at
which point they hide Sarah-Anne. When she learns about Mrs. Webber's
death years earlier and that everyone in her family knows about it, it
marks the beginning of secrets being revealed and changes everything.
Kay is the narrator of the novel and we see everything happen through
her point-of-view. She is often defiant and opinionated. She likes to
curse to get her family riled up. She can be very insightful, while at
the same time she is naive. Some of her observations and descriptions
can be humorous and sometimes they are achingly sad. All of this makes
her a perfect character to narrate what is her coming-of-age story.
The writing in The Floating Girls is absolutely superb.
Patrick captures the setting in descriptive prose that puts you there
amid the oppressive heat and humidity in the summer. The marsh become a
character as well as the location. The poverty and dynamics of Kay's
highly dysfunctional family are also an intrinsic part of the narrative
and the secrets that are exposed. All the characters are carefully
crafted and depicted as realistic individuals. As the plot unfolds,
Patrick manages to capture the heartbreak, confusion, and trauma in
The Floating Girls is an outstanding debut novel. If you enjoy
well-written Southern literary fiction and coming-of-age stories, this
would be an excellent choice.