Fireflies in December
Jennifer Erin Valent
Tyndale, Jan 2009, $12.99
In 1932 in Southern Virginia just turned thirteen years old Jessilyn Lester has her theory confirmed that bad things happen in the summer. When she was five her Granny Rose died; when she was seven her dog Skippy ran away; when she was eleven the drought killed the corn crop. However, the worst has just occurred when the parents of her best friend Gemma die in a fire.
Her Christian caring parents bring Gemma into their household with Jessilyn’s dad vowing to the Lord he will raise the grieving child as if she was his biological daughter. However, the “unholy” actions of the Lester family disturb the townsfolk as they are white and Gemma is black. The neighbors shun them and stare at them with loathing in their eyes as if they are the devil. As the locals continue their insidious campaign of scorn and demand de jure segregation laws be enforced between the races, the Ku Klux Klan learns of the white family nurturing with love an inferior race child. They bring their brand of violence to town as hatred grows towards the family and their newcomer with the courageous patriarch refusing to bow to the dangerous pressure as he knows he has the Lord on his side for doing the right thing.
This is an incredible Depression Era historical tale that provides insight into overt racism especially the effect on the innocence of the young. Readers will admire Mr. Lester for taking his stand though he would scoff at us insisting he only did the Christian thing. The two young females are fascinating protagonists as each is a recipient of hatred and outrage. Whereas Gemma has previously tasted this before, this is new to Jessilyn who questions her dad’s wisdom as she becomes a pariah. Fans will enjoy this deep 1930s small Southern town saga in which ironically de facto segregation is more important to the well-being of the locals than the impoverished economy.