Category Archives: 1950s-1970s

Review: The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson

Title: The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Historical (’50s, ’60s & ’70s), Literary Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


From Pushcart Prize nominee Danny Johnson comes a powerful, lyrical debut novel that explores race relations, first love, and coming-of-age in North Carolina in the 1950s and ’60s.

At eight years old, Raeford “Junebug” Hurley has known more than his share of hard lessons. After the sudden death of his parents, he goes to live with his grandparents on a farm surrounded by tobacco fields and lonesome woods. There he meets Fancy Stroud and her twin brother, Lightning, the children of black sharecroppers on a neighboring farm. As years pass, the friendship between Junebug and bright, compassionate Fancy takes on a deeper intensity. Junebug, aware of all the ways in which he and Fancy are more alike than different, habitually bucks against the casual bigotry that surrounds them–dangerous in a community ruled by the Klan.

On the brink of adulthood, Junebug is drawn into a moneymaking scheme that goes awry–and leaves him with a dark secret he must keep from those he loves. And as Fancy, tired of saying yes’um and living scared, tries to find her place in the world, Junebug embarks on a journey that will take him through loss and war toward a hard-won understanding.

At once tender and unflinching, The Last Road Home delves deep into the gritty, violent realities of the South’s turbulent past, yet evokes the universal hunger for belonging.


The Last Road Home is a heartbreakingly poignant coming of age novel that takes place in rural North Carolina in the years leading up the Civil Rights Movement. This powerful debut by Danny Johnson is a realistic portrayal of race relations and farm life that is incredibly relevant in today’s volatile climate where racism, bigotry and hatred are sadly once again on the rise.

After eight year old Raeford “Junebug” Hurley’s parents are killed in a car accident, he goes to live full-time with his grandparents on their tobacco farm. Junebug is deeply influenced by his surprisingly forward thinking grandparents who do not share their fellow Southerners prejudices and he forms a close friendship with Lightning and Fancy, the children of sharecroppers from a nearby farm.  Unlike his grandparents whose faith is unshakeable, he does not view his religious teachings as absolute truth and as he endures loss after loss, he is pretty much done with religion. Although his relationship with Lightning becomes tense off and on throughout the years, Junebug and Fancy always remain close therefore it is no surprise to those closest to them when their friendship deepens into forbidden love. With the ugly specter of the Ku Klux Klan looming over them and the harsh reality of the hatred that surrounds them, is Junebug and Fancy’s relationship doomed to fail?

Despite the losses he has endured and the sometimes cruel nature of farm living, Junebug is a sensitive, kindhearted and thoughtful young man. He thinks for himself and he is lucky to have grandparents who allow him the freedom to question the injustices that occur around them. Although he is accustomed to the racial slurs and epitaphs of his neighbors, Junebug never allows other people’s prejudices to sway him and he is angered by the bigotry that is so deeply ingrained in Southern culture. Even with his grandmother’s thoughtful explanation of why people are unable to let the past go, Junebug refuses to accept racism as the status quo and he will not give up his friendship with Fancy, Lightning and their parents.

Junebug’s innocence is endearing but it is inevitable that his life and friendship will eventually be touched by the ugliness of his neighbors and the Klan. Through his friendship with Fancy, he experiences firsthand the harsh reality of segregation and Jim Crow laws. Junebug naively believes his relationship with Fancy will go unnoticed by those around him and while they do not flaunt their liaison, it is only a matter of time before someone uncovers the truth about them. Fancy is much more realistic about their future than Junebug and she makes a decision that irrevocably changes Junebug’s life.

Written in first person from Junebug’s point of view, The Last Road Home is a realistic depiction of life in the South and while some of the content is difficult to read, it is a heartwrenchingly honest representation of the time period. While it would be nice to believe these dark days are behind us, recent events indicate that racism, prejudice and hatred are alive and well and now extend well beyond Southern borders. This debut novel by Danny Johnson highlights a horrifying and shameful period in American history that should never be forgotten or repeated.

An absolutely outstanding piece of literary fiction that should be on EVERYONE’S reading list.

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Filed under 1950s-1970s, Danny Johnson, Historical, Kensington, Literary Fiction, Rated A+, Recommended Read, Review, The Last Road Home

Review: The River by Michael Neale

Title: The River by Michael Neale
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Fiction, Historical (1950s-1970s)
Length: 296 pages
Book Rating: B

Review Copy Obtained from Publisher Through NetGalley


“You were made for The River . . .”

Gabriel Clarke is mysteriously drawn to The River, a ribbon of frothy white water carving its way through steep canyons high in the Colorado Rockies. The rushing waters beckon him to experience freedom and adventure.

But something holds him back—the memory of the terrible event he witnessed on The River when he was just five years old—something no child should ever see.

Chains of fear and resentment imprison Gabriel, keeping him from discovering the treasures of The River. He remains trapped, afraid to take hold of the life awaiting him.

When he returns to The River after years away, his heart knows he is finally home. His destiny is within reach. Claiming that destiny will be the hardest—and bravest—thing he has ever done.

The Review:

Michael Neale’s debut novel The River is a powerful and compelling story about forgiveness. Following a traumatic loss, five year old Gabriel Clarke leaves Colorado, where generations of his family have run a whitewater rafting business, for a new life with his mother in Kansas. Timid, scared and scarred by his past, Gabriel lives a lonely life. A trip back to Colorado and a whitewater adventure at age twenty proves to be a defining moment as he comes face to face with the life he should have been living.

Beginning in 1956 when Gabriel Clarke is five years old, The River is a riveting story that follows him through childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Through the gentle guidance of several key people in his life, Gabriel finds the strength and courage to overcome the grief and tragedy that irrevocably changed his life. In facing his past, he discovers his strong connection to The River that his father and grandfather revered.

There are several people who influence the direction Gabriel’s life goes. Earl and Vonda Cartwright become surrogate grandparents for Gabriel and Earl plays a pivotal role in Gabriel overcoming his fear of water. Young Jimmy Bly is a childhood friend whose enthusiasm and zest for life take Gabriel from outsider to active participant in many childhood adventures. It is Jimmy who coerces Gabriel into the trip to Colorado; a trip that radically alters Gabriel’s future. With schoolteacher Lily Collinsgworth, Gabriel finds a kindred spirit through their shared grief. His attraction to Tabitha Fielding is a large part of his decision to return to Colorado. Ezra Buchanan becomes the link between his past and his present and his wisdom proves invaluable to Gabriel. Gabriel is most drawn to Tabitha’s father Jacob, and his connection to Gabriel’s past is the most shocking and ultimately, the most healing.

The River is a beautifully written story about love, family, facing one’s fears and forgiveness. It is also an inspirational read that teaches a powerful lesson in letting go of the past and embracing the future. Michael Neale is a gifted storyteller whose prose brings the characters and the various settings vibrantly to life.

I highly recommend this captivating and thought-provoking novel.


Filed under 1950s-1970s, Fiction, Michael Neale, Rated B, Review, The River, Thomas Nelson Publishing