MAKING IT HOME By Teddy Jones
Publisher: MidTown Publishing
Pub Date: July 26, 2021
Series: Jackson’s Pond, Texas Series *** Stand Alone: YES
Pages: 275 pages
Categories: Family Fiction / Racism / Ku Klux Klan / Texas Women’s Fiction / Rural Fiction
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In this third novel in the Jackson’s Pond, Texas series, fifty-five-year-old Melanie Jackson Banks encounters racism, intolerance, and violence both in her family’s distant past and in current day Jackson’s Pond. She leads family and community efforts to create reconciliation for past wrongs and also to demonstrate strength and defiance in the face of vandalism, cross-burning, domestic violence, threats to Jackson Ranch’s operation, and kidnapping. In the midst of this stormy period, she finds allies in her mother’s long-time companion, Robert Stanley; her mother, Willa Jackson; her daughter Claire Havlicek; and many others.
Praise for Making It Home. . .
“Making It Home could not be a more timely book… We live in an imperfect world, but it is still possible to think, imagine and make things better. The cast of characters in this strong family affirms this through their hope, decency, and tenacity!” Eleanor Morse, author of Margreete’s Harbor
“Jones’ talent for creating indelible characters endures, as does her way with a compelling plot. … This is a timely page-turner.” Robin Lippincott, author of Blue Territory: A Meditation on the Life and Art of Joan Mitchell
While this is a standalone book in terms of the main plot dealing with racism and the resurgence of KKK activity, I think I would’ve liked to have read the previous two books in the Jackson’s Pond series first. That would have given me the opportunity to meet these people and follow a progression of character arcs from their inception to now. That said, it isn’t necessary to read the other books before this one, as the author does a nice job of inserting enough back story. About a third of the way into the book, I began to understand the connections between people and the different relationships, which let me know enough about the past to see how it was influencing the present.
The diversity of all of the characters was also another enjoyable element of this book. The story focuses mainly on Melanie and her reaction to what she discoverers while reading her grandmother’s diaries, as well as her reactions to what happens now, but all the characters have their moment in the limelight. I appreciated getting to know them through the scenes in their own POV. Characters make a story come alive for me, and the main players at Jackson’s Pond were all well-developed, making each one endearing and likable, from the oldest to the youngest.
All ages, relationships, and races are represented in this story, and how their lives are intertwined is a real strength of the character development: Willa and Robert, finding love in their golden years; Amy and Elisa, the two young dancers who share a special bond; and the closeness that J.D. and Chris have, being friends since childhood. The depth of that closeness was so well illustrated in this thought from J.D when Chris is in danger because of his homosexuality, “As far as he was concerned, losing Chris would be like losing an arm or a leg. Then he smiled, told himself it wouldn’t be a leg, it would be more like losing his liver, real close to vital.”
Tying events from the past to what is happening in the present is a good plot device, and I always wanted to know more about the connections, as well as what was going to happen to the main antagonist in the story, Justin Reese. He’s an egotistical bigoted man who terrorizes Melanie at her pre-school and is involved in the shooting of a bull on the ranch, as well as the many threatening signs that depict KKK images and wordage. Of course, he’d have to get his just deserts, and getting from the first threat to that satisfying ending was an enjoyable trip for me.
In the narration, there was a nice balance between the pacing in the more dramatic moments of confrontations and the less dramatic moments that focused on the more mundane interactions of the characters, or offered time for character introspection. One particular scene of thoughtfulness that was written with vivid descriptions is when Melanie stops at the pond on the ranch before going home. She sits on a rock and think about her childhood on the ranch, as well as her role as a mother. Her children are now older, and she’s felt some of that large burden of responsibility lift a little bit as they gain some independence. Sharing that moment with Melanie on the page, made me think that if I closed my eyes for a moment, I could sit there beside her and just contemplate life.
Not that either of us would be there for long. The drama picks back up when the fencing around Jay Frank’s goat pen is cut and the goats get out. After a scary evening of looking for the animals, and for the boy, three of the goats are found alive, but one has been killed, probably by the same people who shot the bull. From that point in the story, the plot complications increase, and the reader learns more about what is motivating some of the threats to the ranch and the people connected to it. While there is little “reason” about why some people are bigoted, there are often reasons why they choose to act on that bigotry. Often, it is just a belief that they are more entitled to things – happiness, homes, money, success, land – than those they deem “less than.” And they’re willing to do whatever it takes to take advantage of their exalted position.
That belief of entitlement at any cost is threaded through the tapestry of this very enjoyable story, touching every other thread. Kudos to the author for tackling such a difficult, and touchy, topic and handling it with such care and thoughtfulness.
Teddy Jones is the author of three published novels, Halfwide, Jackson’s Pond, Texas, and Well Tended, as well as a collection of short stories, Nowhere Near. Her short fiction received the Gold Medal First Prize in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition in 2015. Jackson’s Pond, Texas was a finalist for the 2014 Willa Award in contemporary fiction from Women Writing the West. Making It Home, was a finalist in the Faulkner-Wisdom competition in 2017 and A Good Family was named finalist in that contest in 2018.
Although her fiction tends to be set in West Texas, her characters’ lives embody issues not bounded by geography of any particular region. Families and loners; communities in flux; people struggling, others successful; some folks satisfied in solitude and others yearning for connection populate her work. And they all have in common that they are more human than otherwise.
Jones grew up in a small Texas town, Iowa Park. Earlier she worked as a nurse, a nurse educator, a nursing college administrator, and as a nurse practitioner in Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico. For the past twenty years, she and her husband have lived in the rural West Texas Panhandle where he farms and she writes.
GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY! GIVEAWAY!
1st: Set of all three novels in the Jackson’s Pond, Texas Series;
2nd: $25 Gift Card + Copy of Nowhere Near
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 8/6/2021)
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