Returning to the Alphabet Variations Challenge:
For letter “J”, I picked up my first Beverly Jenkins’ book. Rebel, published this year, was chosen by my book group to read, and I’m so glad it was.
Although Rebel is supposed to be the first in a new series, I could clearly see that it was connected to other series by virtue of the supporting characters, many of whom are members of the LeVeq family and must have stories of their own. In this book, we focus on Valinda Lacy, an African American woman from New York, who journeys south to New Orleans to teach the newly freed men, women, and children after the Civil War. She only plans to be there for a short period, as she’s engaged to a fellow New Yorker who hopes to start a newspaper back home. However, since he’s abroad seeking financial support for the venture, Valinda makes a courageous choice to travel alone to New Orleans against her father’s wishes to fulfill a dream of her own to teach. Almost immediately upon arriving in New Orleans and beginning her job, Valinda faces challenges brought on by the deep resentments, antagonisms, and continued racism of the immediate post-Civil War period. In no time, former soldiers – white and black – who team up to terrorize the newly free, vandalize the barn Valinda uses for her school, destroy her materials, and attack her. The latter incident attracts the attentions of Captain Drake LeVeq, a former African American soldier who fought for the Union, is an architect, and a son of the well-to-do LeVeq family. He and his sister-in-law rescue Valinda and soon she is taken under the LeVeq family wing. With their help, Valinda sees the possibility of continuing her work in New Orleans, but can she talk her fiancé into starting his newspaper there, let alone convince her family to allow her the freedom to stay. But, most importantly, will she be able to control her growing feelings towards Drake or his for her — especially since the examples set for her concerning male-female relationships have been poor and leave her wondering if she wants to tie herself to any man.
Rebel read to me like an old school romance, which is not a bad thing. I consider Beverly Jenkins one of the grand dames of romance, so I was not surprised by my impression. Although the romance was not especially unique in its portrayal, I did enjoy it. There were odd aspects to it, however. For instance Drake and Valinda did intimate things, but Drake would did not “go all the way” because he felt that was Valinda’s soon-to-be husband’s right. But, since Valinda was so willing to be intimate with Drake, one wonders why he never really questioned that willingness and her relationship with her intended sooner. It was a very odd little dance, with some weird justifications.
In my opinion, the strongest aspect of the book was all the historical details Ms. Jenkins’ incorporated into her story. Although one can imagine that life was very tough for the newly free in Louisiana, the details of the mores of the community — both good and bad — were fascinating. I was also interested in the various groups and where they sat in the hierarchy of the city: the African Americans (both poor and not), the white populace (both poor and not), the Creoles, etc. This was almost a cosmopolitan city in terms of the population, if not in its activities. So interesting. I’d give this book a B+ and would be interested in more stories set in this time and place.
The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 13 down, 6 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, S …)
The Phonics Challenge – 3 down, 16 to go