Fascinating from the start, The Sweet Shade of a Chinaberry Tree, by Janice Parrish, is certainly hard to classify. A creative fiction based on the author’s own experiences while growing up in Southern States in the tumultuous 1960’s – a time of great change for America - could also be classified as an inter-racial romance or possibly a drama.
The Sweet Shade of a Chinaberry Tree involves multicultural and social issues, true young love, the relationship between the main character and her parents and so much more. The setting is based in Alabama, USA during the summer of 1963.
The novel follows 19-year-old Gaynell McGowan from the moment she returns to her home town during a summer break from college where she had learned all kinds of novel ideas that would forever alter her view of the people she once believed in and knew so well. Failing to fully complete her college course, Gaynell is assigned a paper, which lead her into the most tender and truest of loves anyone could ever experience. Readers will thrive on the thrilling, secretive, inter-racial romance and the incredible sacrifice Parrish’s characters endure.
A town, stubborn in their ways, is afraid of racial change and this fear empowers a threat so great that it has begun to rip the town apart and shatter families. The small town is facing the challenge of having the first school in Alabama become integrated with black students. Under orders from the government, bigoted and heartless behavior toward a set of people who just happen to have a darker skin begins to tear the town apart. So-called "normal, god-fearing" individuals strengthen their resistance and suppression, while a few individuals turn to hateful, murderous, cross-burning tactics.
My respect for the author grew when I read her statement "In Gaynell McGowan, I have found the voice to express the inhumanity we Southerners covered with good manners and lace tablecloths."
So many aspects of this time period and radical change are covered in her fantastic array of characters that I could not possibly do it justice in this book review. All that I can say is that this book has found a spot on my shelves indefinitely and the characters are locked in my mind forever. While I did not spend time in the Southern US, I did grow up around those that struggled with this issue and feel the way this author portrayed the people could not have been more realistic or more heart-felt.
The Sweet Shade of a Chinaberry Tree would be an excellent historical fiction movie not just because of the first hand experience, but also due to the excellent research the author put in to get the right feel for this dramatic period.
Author: Janice Ward Parrish
Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory