During one pivotal summer toward the end of WWII, ten-year-old Helen, whose mother died when she was three, is still grieving over the loss of her grandmother (Nonie). When her father goes away to work for the summer, she is left in the charge of a cousin, Flora, from Alabama. Flora was Helen’s mother’s cousin, and often spoke highly of her. But at twenty-two, there is something very simple about Flora. Helen thought of her as simple-minded, and often bemoaned Flora’s tendency to spill her guts whenever she had the opportunity.
During the summer days of isolation, due to the mountain top home and to a polio outbreak that had residents of the community in a panic, there were times when the two of them grew closer. But Helen always felt superior to Flora…and there were other feelings that grew slowly and seemingly exploded near their final days together. Were those feelings envy? How was that even possible when Flora had so little to offer?
How does the growing friendship with Finn, the grocery delivery boy, seemingly set in motion a competitiveness between Flora and Helen? What secrets are Helen’s father keeping that will come back to haunt them all? And how will the evening before Helen’s eleventh birthday change everything forever?
Helen’s story is told from the point of view of that “haunted child”…and also from the vantage point of her life in her later years. We come to see how those weeks changed many things for her….and were her defining moments. Themes of loss, betrayal, and unrequited love form the core of Flora: A Novel. A lovely, poignant, and sad read that had me feeling like I was living inside the skins of the characters. Five stars.