The minute I read the first review, I knew I HAD to get my hands on this book. Reading the dust jacket - "Meet Sarah Walters, a Charleston debutante with questionable manners and an inherited weakness for bad ideas" - I felt a tremendous shock of recognition. Granted I was from Atlanta, but take it from me, this book rings so true I was transported back to another time and place. Charleston society was Atlanta times 3 - or 4. In the South, Charleston is the top of the heap, the grand dame of southern gentility and manners. Southerners care about and know who your great-great-great grandfather was and adhere to a convoluted set of social rules. The society Crouch depicts really existed and still lives. Her setting is drawn with detail that truly conveys the place - not only the town with its hot, sticky summers and old homes, but also the stifling "old family" milieu.
Sarah is a Camellia. She is the daughter of an old family, so she is a Camellia by birth, and as she says, "once a Camellia, always a Camellia," whether you really want it or not. So true, so true. With charm and wit, Crouch unfolds the story of a small group of girls as they grow up, leave, but never entirely get away from their Camellia roots. Crouch gives us romance with a dark edge and endings that, while not necessarily happy, are very satisfying. Sarah and her friends (by birth but not by choice) leave Charleston with relief, liberated, going "North" to college and escaping the strictures of a culture built on rules for proper behavior. (Southerners really do say "yes, ma'am.") They build new lives around the inheritance of their past, like setting furniture around a large elephant in the living room. Most of the book relates what happens to these Charleston flowers after they leave home. The plot is not sugar-coated and what happens to the Camellias easily flows from the background and story structure.
Highly recommended for the Southern Reading Challenge. A great summer book. I could almost taste the sweet tea.
Reviewed by Vidalia - Cotillon member and graduate of the Margaret Bryan school of ballroom dance, where you would have found me (step ball step), maybe, on row four, a little confused about why I was there. (one, two, cha, cha, cha)