When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.
For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.
McNeal left quite an impression with her debut novel Dollbaby
Dollbaby is more than a coming of age story. The story explores love, family, family secrets as well a young girl from adolescence to adulthood navigating her way through life, forming her beliefs.
The characters and setting compliment each other so well, McNeal truly did a marvelous job creating a narrative driven by both. New Orleans is depicted so vividly with plenty of excitement. The reader gets a true feel for the culture, people and vibe of the era. Civil rights were addressed as well as the passing of Johnson’s Civil Right Act of 1964. McNeal clearly presents the 60’s and 70’s with all the advancements and setbacks history withstood. No question you feel as if you are in the heart of New Orleans from your armchair. I swear I could taste the dishes described and felt as if I was a part of the traditions of this colorful city.
McNeal delivers a powerful cast of strong and positive women. The women are eclectic but share strength, drive and hope. Queenie – the driving force. Fannie, eccentric, not the pillar of mental strength, however the woman has endured more than her share of trials and tribulations. Doll, a young woman ready for change, and she is determined to change things for the better. Ibby, a young girl dealt difficult blows from life at a very early age. She’s intelligent, resilient, strong and compassionate. She formulates her own opinions and listens prior to reaching a conclusion. The entire ensemble is endearing and add so much between the lines of the narrative.
Dollbaby is a delightful read. McNeal has my attention and I am excited to see what her future holds. A fabulous story with various themes threaded throughout the plot, surely to appeal to a wide audience. A story masterfully crafted combining humor, serious subject matter in a sensitive and loving manner.
Queenie pointed a finger at Ibby. “Rule Number One in this house. Don’t ever go asking Miss Fannie about her past. Rule Number Two. She starts talking about her past, let her talk but don’t go asking questions. Rule Number Three. You see her hand start twitching, you better change the subject. Rule Number Four. You got something you want to know, you come ask one of us. But don’t never let on to Miss Fannie that I said nothing. That’s Rule Number Six.”
“That’s Rule Number Five, Mama. There ain’t no number six,” Doll said.
“Doll, shut your mouth. Miss Ibby knows what I’m getting at.”
Doll rolled her eyes. “Maybe Rule Number Six should be don’t argue with Mama.”
“That’s an unwritten rule. Don’t need a number.”