I have to confess that I am a big Pat Conroy fan. In his book of essays, “My Reading Life” he introduces the reader to his college friend John Warley and the true story behind Warley’s novel, “A Southern Girl.” Conroy had me hooked when he said, “I wish I’d written this book.” Soon I was enthralled in Warley’s book, later donating a signed copy to Jefferson Carnegie Library.
The book is set in Charleston, South Carolina and revolves around a “South of Broad” family steeped in the traditions of this city’s high society. The twist is that the Southern Girl at the heart of the story was born in South Korea and adopted by Coleman and Elizabeth Carter.
Coleman is comfortable in the exclusive traditions passed down from his parents; Elizabeth is more of a rebel. They have two healthy boys, but she has always wanted to adopt a Korean orphan. Through narrations of Elizabeth, the birth mother, the orphanage nurse, and Coleman, we are drawn into the adoption story of Soo Yun (later called Allie).
It doesn’t take long for Soo Yun to become very much a part of the Carter family, but beyond the immediate family, her reception is not always a warm one. Coleman’s parents can’t comprehend the reason for the adoption, particularly when it involves an Asian child and the U. S. is only a few years removed from the Viet Nam war.
Coleman begins to see the subtle racism and exclusivity that he had ignored. He is forced to face it head-on, though, when sixteen year old Allie does not receive an invitation to a high society event she most certainly would have been invited to had she been Coleman and Elizabeth’s birth child.
“A Southern Girl” is filled with three dimensional characters I quickly grew to care about as I eagerly turned the page to see what happened next. But what takes this story to the next level is the way it also makes the reader consider the complexities and complications each character experiences. Therese Anne Fowler puts it well in her foreword. “I struggled with the practical versus the profound. I considered the problems and the benefits of birthright, tradition, opportunity, exclusion.
I thought about loss and renewal and what constitutes family. I contemplated the questions of what we owe the people we care for and what we owe ourselves.” Nicole Seitz states, “A powerhouse of emotions, A Southern Girl explores the depths of parental love and the lengths to which it will go.”
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