South of Reasonby Cindy M. Eppes
Washington Square Press, 278 pp., $24 In South of Reason, first-time Texas novelist Cindy Eppes presents a poignant coming-of-age story told through the experiences of 13-year-old Kayla Sanders. When Kayla's family relocates from the sheltering piney woods of Cameron to her parents' childhood home of Rosalita in South Texas, everything about Kayla's life changes, rather than just her address and the surrounding geography. From the very day of their early summer arrival, secrets and unanswered questions loom over Kayla's family and that of their new next-door neighbors, the young widow Lou Jean Perry and her two sons, Charles Dale and David. Charles Dale is the first person in Rosalita to greet Kayla and the two strike up an immediate friendship, being neighbors and only three months apart in age. Not long after she's met the Perrys, Kayla begins to wonder about the mysteries that seem to be swirling around both families: how is it that Lou Jean Perry knows her name and all about her when they've just met, why were her mother and grandmother arguing about them living in the house next door to Lou Jean, what's caused the drastic changes in her mother's behavior, and most of all, why did so many things about Charles Dale remind Kayla of her father?
As Kayla considers the changes around her, she muses that perhaps her family had "actually moved to the wrong place, somewhere they hadn't intended to go at all." As she reveals the answers behind the mysteries causing Kayla's family to unravel before her eyes, Eppes carefully weaves the difficult themes of adultery, abortion, and mental illness into her story without once descending into melodrama. Her characters are richly drawn and engaging, evoking interest and compassion. By Labor Day, Eppes' Kayla Sanders emerges as someone who no longer thinks secrets are fun and romantic, but as a young woman who recognizes the adults in her life for the flawed and struggling people they are and is reconciled to the changes in her family. Eppes' first novel has left me eager for her second.
Cindy Eppes will be at BookPeople on Wednesday, May 8, at 7pm.