The Well and the Mine
by Gin Phillips
(Riverhead, $15) ISBN 978-1594484490
****
After young Tess watches a stranger tosses a baby down their family well life is never the same. Like an object hitting the water, this incomprehensible action has a ripple effect on all the members of the Moore family, causing them to look at their community, and themselves, in a whole new light.

Debut novelist Gin Phillips does a fabulous job of creating true and steady voices for her characters who each narrate their own thoughts. While stalwart father Albert and ever-in-motion hardworking mother Leta might be almost too noble to believe, the story's heartfelt connections and the precisely described details of their Depression-era existence imbue the novel with a winning sense of family connection and place.

While young Tess and her sister Virgie try to solve the mystery of the baby in the well they learn more about life outside their own household, and Albert learns to see racial discrimination where before he only noticed his own fairness. Phillips never hits us over the head with her messages about racism or abject poverty in hard times, instead she carefully creates situations that allow us to observe our behavior along with her characters.

This atmospheric and compassionate story is like To Kill a Mockingbird told from the whole family's perspective with a dash of Fannie Flagg's interpersonal relationships and dirt-between-the-toes Southern grit.

--Laura Johnson


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