Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: Chasing Lilacs

When I was young I worked alongside an older woman from whom I learned much. She was well travelled with many life experiences and was open to sharing with me. One of the things she often told me was, “scratch the surface of anyone and you’ll find an unsung hero.” At the time I dismissed those words, but have found over the years how wise and honest she was. Carla Stewart’s remarkable novel Chasing Lilacs is a testament to this truth.

It is 1958 and Sammie Tucker’s 12th summer. Living in the small town of Graham Camp the company town of a petroleum plant in the Texas panhandle, this is a pivotal year for Sammie and her friends. In the fall they will begin junior high, a monumental step in the life of a young girl. Overshadowing her summer is her depressed mother whose situation colors everything in her world. But as it is true that God never gives us more than we can bear, it is also true that He brings into our lives those who can help us, and this holds true for Sammie.

The troubled nephew of one of her neighbors moves to town and Sammie immediately feels a connection to the young boy. Her next door neighbor Goldie, who carries a deep sorrow of her own, welcomes the young girl into her heart and home. And Slim, the older man with rumors swirling about him who gives Sammie the attention she has never known from a grandparent. And then there's her best friend Tuwana, whose mother is everything Sammie wishes she could have and fills her with a longing for the one thing she wants: a mother who will love her.

As she navigates this critical year Sammie also learns to trust the still small voice inside her. Railing against her circumstances, at times running from her own emotions, she also learns to rely on her faith to help her charter the muddied waters of her life.

There are many things about Chasing Lilacs that are reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and yet Stewart’s novel stands competently on its own. With a voice as pure and true as the young girl in her book, Carla Stewart has brought to life people that you will recognize in your own heart. She brings to life those days in the late fifties where children can spend lazy summer afternoons walking to the store for a soda and sitting on the stoop talking, and dreaming of the future and at the same time trying to figure out where you fit in your own life.

The element of faith is so quietly spoken that it whispers to you in the back of your mind letting you know that not only does Sammie need to believe, but you do too. And as she scratches the surfaces of those around her she finds those unsung heroes, and in the process finds one in herself.

This is an author I am looking forward to reading more from. I am so grateful to have found this book. Sammie and the people in her town will live with me for a long time. I hope you take the opportunity to pick this book up and read it. Chasing Lilacs will touch your heart.


  1. So humbled by your lovely review, Maureen! I still carry these people around in my heart and I'm glad you loved them too.

  2. Using this book for my 3R's challenge and review and RECOGNITION of you and you blog for "telling" me about it will happen Saturday at Dollycas's Thoughts!!

    Thanks, I loved it!!!