Earlier this year I stumbled across “Fireflies in December,” the debut novel of Jennifer Erin Valent. I had no idea at the time that Jennifer was working on a sequel until a few weeks ago. I thought Fireflies was a one and done book. Therefore I was delighted that my husband got me “Cottonwood Whispers” as a Christmas gift this year. I devoured it in four days – I could have read it in two days, but paced myself so I could savor the book longer. I have to say it was a delight to be back in Jessilyn Lassiter’s world and the only downside was it ended too soon.
Summary from the back of the book:
The summer of 1936 is one that seventeen-year-old Jessilyn Lassiter will never forget. She had hoped to spend it getting a job and – more importantly – finally catching the attention of Luke Talley, the young man she has loved from afar since she was thirteen. But tragedy strikes when a cherished neighbor girl is hit by a car. Jessilyn is torn to pieces, especially when her gentle, elderly friend is accused of the crime. Swept into a grown-up world she couldn’t wait to be a part of, Jessilyn searches for answers until the actions of one man show her the beauty of sacrifice and the power of faith.
“Cottonwood Whispers” is set four years after “Fireflies in December” takes place and we find Jessilyn celebrating her seventeenth birthday at the beginning of the story. The story that ties all the characters together is the theme of racial prejudice and justice that was explored in Valent’s first novel. We see how Jessilyn and Gemma’s (the black girl that the Lassiter’s adopt when her parents are killed) relationship as sisters is challenged by Gemma’s entry into the workforce and essentially womanhood. The vast amount of growing up a young lady does between seventeen and nineteen (Gemma’s age) is notable. We see how the bold and brave actions of a few to stand up for the weak can make a difference in the world as the Lassiters, Luke, Gemma and Miss Cleta rally to a friend’s aid when he is wrongly accused of a brutal crime. Lastly we get to see the relationship between Jessilyn and Luke goes from playful friends to a budding romance.
While the novel was built on the storyline of justice, it was a treat to read the parts where Jessilyn and Luke start realizing that their feelings for one another have moved beyond friendship. So often I find romantic relationships in Christian books clichéd and predictable. What was a delight to see in Cottonwood Whispers is that Valent doesn’t rush the two lovebirds into each other’s arms. Rather, the pacing of the relationship is normal and proper for the time that this book takes place. As I read the book I couldn’t help but smile and reflect back on how LONG young romantic relationships once took to form. The process of courting and getting to know someone took time and could be so much fun. The 4th of July dance scene was awesome to read …can’t tell you more without spoiling it, but you will feel like you are back in high school again and have the same butterflies in your tummy that Jessilyn does.
My only “criticism” (and it was a hard one to come by) was that the relationship between Gemma and Jessilyn wasn’t explored more fully. There’s a lot going on with Gemma and it would have been interesting to find out some of her motivations and feelings in the book. I do acknowledge it might have been hard to do this without slowing down the book.
So that you don’t get alarmed when you finish the book (trust me, you’ll be dying to find out what happens with Jessilyn and Luke when the book ends,) Valent has a third and final book of the series coming out in fall 2010: “Catching Moondrops.” It’s set in summer of 1939 – three years after “Cottonwood Whispers” leaves off. I am going to have so much reading to do in fall 2010 with the arrival of “Catching Moondrops”, the last book of The Hunger Games trilogy and hopefully the sequel to Graceling. Can’t wait!!! I love Valent's books and wish her a long and fulfilling writing career.