Reviewed by: A.R.K. Watson
An old man is dying in the small town of Loti, Texas. His daughter, middle child Gracey travels back to her hometown to say her goodbyes and help her siblings with the funeral. While she and her siblings struggle with the resentments of a childhood under an alcoholic, emotionally distant father and a runaway mother, Gracey finds herself drawn to the family Bible she finds in her father’s old roll top desk. Within this old holy book is a tree, chronicling her family history. As Gracey recounts her ancestor’s journey from famine-stricken Ireland to the frontier coast of Texas she learns to forgive her parents and herself for wounds that are far more ancient than she first expected.
Finalist for the Falkner-Literary Wisdom prize, A Good Girl is a beautiful and moving story about faith, forgiveness, and American heritage. Fans of Irish, Texan, or Southern history will find this story especially fascinating. Though I am not someone who usually cries in movie theaters or while reading, I was moved to tears in the scene where Grace’s husband confronts her about how her childhood pain is affecting their marriage. It is a moving scene of love, patience and humble commitment that is so rarely seen in fiction these days.
The Catholicism in this story is not overt or preachy. The characters and family culture in A Good Girl are openly Catholic, though there are a few German protestant characters of good integrity. The religion in this book is as unassuming and integral to the characters as the humid Texan air they breathe. This makes A Good Girl a solid read for both the secular and religious reader; a fact that surprised me given the author’s anecdote that while searching for a publisher for the book she was told there is “too much religion in it.”
The book does start off very depressing, but if this puts the reader off I propose they at least read as far as the first flashback into Gracey’s family history in Ireland. That is when the story really begins to shine. There are also a few plot elements that seemed a bit predictable, but again, that issue is something that is a convention of the Family Drama sub-genre and the emotional journey on which Bernhard’s prose takes her reader is well worth every word.
Author’s website: http://www.johnniebernhardauthor.com/a-good-girl
Buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Girl-Johnnie-Bernhard/dp/168003121X
Genre: General Fiction, Family Drama, Southern Fiction
Catholic Themes: Forgiveness, Family, Faith, Prayer, Community