Rated Reads

The Good Dream

by Donna VanLiere

Rated: Moderate

Ivorie Walker lives in a time and place in which she is consigned to certain expectations: it’s 1950, and she lives in small-town Tennessee. Being single and in her early 30s, that pretty much means she’s now a spinster. Her parents have died, her mother fairly recently, and she pretty much spins around her house and garden day in and day out just trying to stay busy. Her older brother says that everyone in town now has some of her blackberry jam.

But in a place where few things change but the weather, Ivorie is faced with some surprises: she starts to fall for a widower in town who begins calling on her, and a dirty little boy starts stealing food from her garden.

Ivorie can’t help but feel drawn to this poor little soul who seems to be living a very difficult life, and one day she takes him in and starts caring for him herself. This unexpectedly draws the consternation and even ire of other people in her little town, but she pushes on ahead, feeling a deep purpose in having the boy in her life. But the boy drags secrets along with him, secrets someone in town would rather keep buried.

The Good Dream is really a lovely book about love and grief and, yes, redemption. It’s ripe with details of Southern, small-town life in a time that now seems distant; it’s difficult not to experience a feeling of nostalgia for the quiet rhythms of life, despite the all-too-real depiction VanLiere paints of hot, muggy summer days unrelieved by air conditioning. I vicariously relished all the wonderful growing things Ivorie picks and cans and cooks: ripe tomatoes and cucumbers, blackberries and blueberries; jam and cobblers and sausage and gravy. At the same time, though, as she reminds readers of the glories of those days gone by, VanLiere also reminds us about the downsides of those old small towns: every secret and problem festers under the surface, and there aren’t many options for anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into a circumscribed position.

Rated: Moderate, for some mild and moderate language and some disturbing situations. A boy has been routinely abused, and some details about it and references to how bad it was crop up throughout the book.

Extra: If you’d like to listen to an audio excerpt from the book, click here.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 15 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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The Good Dream
  • The Good Dream
  • by Donna VanLiere
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: