Mother of Pearl
by Melinda Haynes
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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Valuable Korner is the 15 year-old daughter of the town slut. Abandoned by that same mother at birth, Val now does everything she can to prove she won't turn out the same.

Jackson McLain is the boy in which Valuable finds the love she's seeking. Unfortunately, their love is tainted by a secret nobody will tell the young couple.

Joody Two Sun, a half black, half "injun" seer makes her campsite down by the river. Her ability to see into people's lives makes them curious. They sneak down to her campsite and seek her spiritual power.

Even Grade is the young black man in love with Joody Too Sun. She gives him the affection he's never had.

Canaan Mosley is Even's neighbor. He's a smart man whose his frustration makes him a recluse. He says a woman made him that way.

Grace Johnson is the caretaker for invalid Mary Green. Since she lost her child years ago, she's also been a mother to Mary's child.

Joleb Green is Mary's youngest child. He thinks he killed his mother, because she had a stroke in childbirth.

There are at least five more minor characters in Mother of Pearl, but there's no need to list them all. Everybody in this story is searching for something and that's the theme here.

Melinda Haynes' first novel is set in Petal, Mississippi. The year is 1961. Though the characters may differ in color, each is tied to another in one or more ways. The main characters were listed above to illustrate that point.

I hesitate to go further into the plot, as this review would then turn into a book report and summary. Just know that all these characters feel lost. They are searching for an unknown something that will center their lives. Mother of Pearl follows these people for about a year through events that change their being and sense of purpose.

The main complaint of this book is obvious; there are a lot of characters in the novel. Each one has an interesting tale, but telling all their stories upsets the pace of the book. There are twelve people to keep track of and by the time the twelfth one is mentioned, the first one is forgotten.

What does work here is Haynes' vivid writing style. Her descriptions of the physical landscape took me to a place I had never been. Combine that with interesting characters and a fair dose of humor and you have a memorable story.

Perhaps my favorite element of Mother of Pearl is Haynes' unusual name choices for her characters. Valuable Korner and Even Grade stand out. This appears to be a pattern, as I noticed the same feature in the author's second novel, Chalktown.

I don't recommend Mother of Pearl as a book club suggestion. I have no idea why Oprah did so. There's just too much going on in the story. Can you imagine eight book club members discussing 12 characters? Literary chaos!

Also, if you prefer mainstream best-selling fiction, you may tire with everything happening in Haynes' novel. Perhaps you should skip this one.

Avid bookworms who crave a unique story will most likely enjoy Mother of Pearl. I read so many books that the story lines seem to blur together. I can guarantee you that names like Valuable Korner and Even Grade will stand out in my mind for a good time to come.

If you do read Mother of Pearl and don't care for it, I still recommend you check out Chalktown, Haynes' second novel. The problems I found in her first book are nowhere to be found in her second book. The characters have odd names, but there are less of them to keep track of, thankfully.

All in all, I feel that Melinda Haynes is a very talented author. Her first book, Mother of Pearl, was recognized as a selection for Oprah's Book Club. Her second book, Chalktown, is even better. I anxiously await a third.

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Melinda Haynes:
Mother of Pearl was a 1999 selection of Oprah's Book Club.
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