Laura Lane McNeal
A Viking Readers Guide
|AN INTRODUCTION TO DOLLBABY||ABOUT LAURA LANE MCNEAL|
|A CONVERSATION WITH LAURA LANE MCNEAL||DISCUSSION QUESTIONS|
An Introduction to Dollbaby
It's the summer of 1964 and eleven-year-old Ibby has just lost her father in a freak bicycle accident. Undone from the whole ordeal, Ibby's mother Vidrine unceremoniously dumps Ibby—along with an urn of her father's ashes—at the New Orleans home of Ibby's paternal grandmother, Fannie. The big old house with its boarded-up bedrooms, Victorian embellishments and strange food are odd enough to a little girl who's grown up in the state of Washington. Then there's the grandmother she never knew she had: Fannie is a volatile woman that runs a betting ring on her back porch, has a history of asylum stays, and is fraught with a mysterious past that Ibby has been forbidden to question.
But soon, Fannie's black cook Queenie, and her daughter Dollbaby, help Ibby orient herself to her new surroundings, welcoming her into the fold with delicious Creole meals, handmade clothes and plenty of seasoned advice about dealing with her unpredictable grandmother. Fannie, for her part, quickly takes to her new role as a grandmother, pampering Ibby with her very own perfume, a birthday lunch at historic Antoine's, and a sense of family legacies. Though at first Ibby bristles at Fannie's old-fashioned ideas like party dresses and gloves, Ibby warms to Fannie's eccentric and often impulsive manner and realizes that beneath all her outlandish bluster, Fannie has a real heart. As Fannie's tragic personal history slowly comes to light, Ibby understands that her arrival might be the best thing for their mutual survival. And what was supposed to be only a temporary stay evolves into a more permanent, although tentative, arrangement.
Meanwhile, the Civil Rights movement is stirring up New Orleans.. Everyone seems to be taking sides, and not even Dollbaby and Queenie agree on the direction the country is headed under President Lyndon Johnson's new law. If that's not enough, Ibby's growing friendship with Dollbaby's daughter, Birdelia, makes Ibby a target for racist neighbors.
Still, there's an ache in her heart for all she's lost -- her beloved father, and a mother who left her for a visit, then disappeared without a trace. As she wonders whether her mother will ever come back for her, Ibby must decide if chasing the past will give her what's she looking for, or if this new crazy quilt of a family is where her heart truly belongs.
Laura Lane McNeal's vividly drawn characters, caught in the vortex of cultural change, are as bold and charming as New Orleans itself.