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by Cynthia Bend

Publishers Weekly Bond's debut novel is difficult to read for its graphic and uncomfortable portrayal of racism, sexual violence, and religious intolerance in East Texas in the 1960s and '70s. Bond is a gifted storyteller, able to make the reader squirm with anger and unease as she vividly depicts how easily bad things happen to good people. Ruby Bell is a middle-aged black woman living a feral existence in the woods of Liberty Township, a poor black community where the intolerant and superstitious inhabitants treat her with disgust as a social outcast and an unrepentant sinner because she's a prostitute. Ephram Jennings grew up with Ruby and has been in love with her for years, despite her reputation. He too is shunned and ridiculed-because of his feelings for her. Their romance remains sad and painfully one-sided, regardless of Ephram's tender good intentions. Even his doting older sister, Celia, is embarrassed and ashamed by Ephram's behavior, and her deep, visceral hatred of Ruby goes back decades. Flashbacks reveal why Ruby chose a life of prostitution and why Celia hates her, as well as why Ephram struggles to get out from under his sister's influence. All of the family drama is set amid an ingrained culture of sexual exploitation of women and children, racial brutality, and the community's passive acceptance that these things are facts of life. This is a grim tale, well told, but there's no comfort in these pages-just tragedy and heartache. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal The citizens of Liberty, TX, have always watched Ruby Bell, first as a small child playing in the Piney Woods with her devoted cousin Maggie, then as a beautiful young woman on her way to a new life in New York City during the 1950s, and finally as she wanders aimlessly down the red dirt roads upon her return in the 1970s, muttering incoherently at the invisible spirits that torment her. Grocery clerk and childhood friend Ephram Jennings decides to reach out to Ruby, but his doing so angers his sister Celia and mobilizes his church brethren to intervene. Through multiple flashbacks, we learn of Ruby's past, rife with abuse and neglect, including lynchings, prostitution, and child rape. The strength and will that Ephram and Ruby need to fend off the rest of the world is threatened even as their bond grows stronger. Educator and debut novelist Bond knows the dark potentialities of her setting and explores them adroitly through each well-drawn character. Ruby's story is truly that of a people and a place, outlined lyrically and honestly, even when the most brutal events unfold. -VERDICT Definitely not for the faint of heart or for those who prefer lighter reads, this book exhibits a dark and redemptive beauty. Bond's prose is evocative of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, paying homage to the greats of Southern gothic literature. [See Prepub Alert, 10/14/13.]-Jennifer B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Book list *Starred Review* Ephram Jennings, the son of a backwoods preacher, has been in love with the beautiful Ruby Bell ever since childhood. But Ruby has been so badly used by the men in her small African American town of Liberty, Texas, that she flees for New York City as soon as she is able, in search of the mother who abandoned her. When Ruby's best friend dies, Ruby returns home, only to succumb to the bad memories that haunt her still. Once sharply dressed and coiffed, she now wanders the streets with ripped clothing and vacant eyes. But Ephram still sees her as the lighthearted girl with pigtails, running free in the woods. And so he begins his long, sweet courtship, bringing her a homemade cake, cleaning her filthy house, and always treating her with kindness. At long last, out from under his overbearing sister's dominion, he feels himself come alive. But the church folks in town view their relationship as the work of the devil and seek to bring Ephram back to God and to cast out Ruby. In her first novel, Bond immerses readers in a fully realized world, one scarred by virulent racism and perverted rituals but also redeemed by love. Graphic in its descriptions of sexual violence and suffering, this powerful, explosive novel is, at times, difficult to read, presenting a stark, unflinching portrait of dark deeds and dark psyches.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.