Chalktown opens on an unusually warm day in 1961. As the sun rises, it appears to be business as usual in rural George County, Mississippi. However, today sixteen year-old Hezekiah Sheehand has decided to skip school and walk on over to Chalktown, a mysterious nearby village where residents communicate through chalkboards set on their front porches.
Strapped to Hez's back in a makeshift carrier is Yellababy, his severely mentally disabled five year-old brother. He was given the name when he turned pumpkin yellow as a newborn. The affliction caused irreversible damage and he was never the same. Hez doesn't understand why "Billy Reuben" hurt Yellababy, but he is determined to care for the brother his mother ignores.
Folks tend to avoid Chalktown, but Hez feels he has no reason to stay home. His father is down by the river with another woman. His neglectful, abusive mother is bordering on the edge of collapse. As for his promiscuous sister Arena, well, Hez doesn't know and doesn't care. He also doesn't know that on this day, his life will change forever.
In her second novel, Melinda Haynes has offered many interesting characters in an equally fascinating story. Chalktown is divided into three distinct sections. Part One is set in 1961, and follows Hez on his fateful journey. Readers are also introduced to his family and surrounding townsfolk. Part Two unveils the residents of that lonely road before it got its famous name in 1955. We also learn about the much-rumored incident that finally led these people to finally stop talking altogether and resort to chalkboard communication.
The final portion of the book returns the reader back to 1961. Chalktown holds a miracle for Yellababy who says his name and rolls over for the first time amid the haunted boundaries of the village. Hez is touched by his brother's accomplishment as well.
In fact, all characters in Chalktown are set free of their demons in one way or another, and this appears to be the main theme of the book. Haynes does an excellent job of describing the setting. You don't have to go to rural Mississippi to see the flat land and eternal dirt roads that lead back to one another creating a maze from which the poor residents can't seem to escape.
I recommend Chalktown to all readers across the board. Avid bookworms will appreciate the unique storyline. Themes of inner demons, spirituality and forgiveness are there for the reader to ponder. For book clubs, Haynes has provided countless topics for discussion. Why did Hez decide to visit the forbidden Chalktown? What exactly is the color of sin? How should readers interpret the final scene of the book?
The only drawback to this novel is a small one, and it really is just a matter of personal preference. The final scene left me with a few small questions. My guess is that the ambiguity of this scene was intentional, planting a small seed of wonder in the reader. Overall, the story was wrapped up nicely and left me feeling complete.
That being said, I hope you consider taking a trip to Chalktown as well. Melinda Haynes second novel is a good one and will have readers anxiously awaiting a third. Enjoy!