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Down In Lonesome Grove Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

Down In Lonesome Grove is Sharon Askew's intense and strikingly suspenseful debut novel. Situated in Fox Trap, a secluded segment of Lonesome Grove, North Carolina, the reader is introduced to Lenora Smallwood and her two teenaged children, Joseph and Deborah.  On the surface, Lenora is a quiet, loving, resolved woman who is home schooling her beloved children; however as the novel progresses, we learn that she has a heavily burdened and tormented soul.

Lenora is a victim of child abuse at the hands of the community pillar and her stepfather, the "Reverend" Bennie Lee. After a brief courtship, her mother (Sarah Jane) blindly accepts this "man of God" into her heart, life, and home and immediately throws herself into the role of first lady of the local church. She sacrifices her time with Lenora for the needs of the parishioners and largely ignores her young daughter who is left alone to be repeatedly sexually abused by the pedophilic "Reverend". It is only after ten years that Sarah Jane finally catches him in the brutal act of raping Lenora. She becomes insanely distraught over the incident and commits suicide in front of the traumatized teenager. With no family or friends to rescue her, Lenora is trapped with "the Reverend" and ultimately bears two children by him. In a strange turn of events, "the Reverend" perishes in a freak accident and vows to haunt Lenora via his children before he dies at her hand.

Lenora becomes misanthropic, withdraws from society, and raises her children in seclusion. She often reflects on her maternal grandmother's (Beulah Jane) misdeeds and questions whether Buelas affair with a married, white man is the source of her family's long-suffering ills. Lenora's faith in God as a protector has been weakened by her ordeal with one of His representatives, "the Reverend", and has not stepped inside of a church in decades. She has weaved a web of lies to protect her children from their father's true identity. It is only when an unspeakable act occurs does the web begin to collapse and the Reverend's curse comes to fruition. Lenora, like her mother, witnesses an abominable event, becomes senselessly overwhelmed and commits an equally unimaginable act of child abuse. In the aftermath, one child ends up dead while the other is physically and emotionally scarred for life by Lenora's hands. The remaining child is removed from the home and placed in protective custody. Lenora finds herself on trial and must regain her faith in God, strength from the truth, and trust in her fellow man to make it through this horrendous ordeal.

Although one may think this review is quite detailed--be warned, there are many more facets to the story than this review reveals. As one might imagine, this novel contains scenes of graphic child abuse which might be a bit too much for some readers. The novel is told in third person and uses time-phased flashbacks which allows the reader to become a "bystander" as the scenes unfold. The author's use of this technique is great because it builds suspense from Lenora's haunted pasts and events occurring in real time. The reader gains a strong sense of foreboding and feels compelled to keep reading to find out exactly what will happen. This is a first edition, self-published novel and there are a few grammatical and typographical mistakes. However, if one can overlook these errors and focus on the story itself, I believe a couple of hours of reading enjoyment can be found. This young author shows great storytelling ability and writing potential. My only comment regarding the conclusion is it wrapped up a little too neatly and succinctly considering all the issues and drama that developed in the story. I believe readers who enjoyed novels like Fifth Born by Zelda Lockhart, Secret by Mirika Cornelius, and The Root Worker by Rainelle Burton would enjoy this book as well.

The Nubian Circle Book Club rating for Down In Lonesome Grove is 4 out of 5 stars. We welcome your comments and thoughts about this book review. Please e-mail us at: