I had a lovely time speaking at the Como Civic Club last week. The program was to be “Mississippi Authors - Then and Now,” but I shifted focus after reading Into the Free by Julie Cantrell. She is one of the bright now writers supporting my theory that our shared Mississippi experience produces outstanding talent.
Last week’s Book Talk was Into the Free, but while researching Cantrell for the presentation I was shocked to read the book’s reviews all promoting it as Christian fiction instead of Southern literature. Even her publisher David C. Cook specializes in the genre, but Southern(ness) oozes throughout.
While I focused on the dichotomy of good and evil in the book, others saw the presence of God. Author, River Jordan, said, “Julie Cantrell writes with the beautiful hand of someone who understands the soft nuance of God’s brushstrokes on the human heart.”
Sure, I would have accepted it as Christian fiction if not for the violence. For instance, father beats wife. Starving dog buries puppies. Mother commits suicide. Yet main character, Millie, sees her dead friend Sloth during times of stress. The introduction of a ghost even hints to the subgenre of gothic within Southern fiction.
One of the members of the club asked if the book would be suitable for teens. An excellent question since Millie enters the story as a 10-year-old and progresses to her teenage self. It is the perfect coming of age story one finds in Young Adult novels.
Cantrell cautioned during an interview with Adele Annesi, “Because there are some rough scenes, I recommend that parents read the novel first for any child under 16, but many parents have asked their daughters as young as 13 to read this book because it opens communication about many important topics such as sexual abuse, racism, classism, substance abuse, faith, love, conformity, and personal choices.”
Yet, one more genre can be added to this book. The story takes place during the Depression when gypsies spend a week celebrating their fallen matriarch. The historical fiction is based on true events surrounding a Romany group who lost their “Gypsy Queen,” Kelly Mitchell, and laid her to rest in Rose Hill cemetery. It is said that approximately 20,000 attended the 1915 funeral in Meridian.
Into the Free is a Mississippi Must-Read genre!