Book Review: American Ghost

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American Ghost by Janis Owens: An engrossing novel inspired by a true event about unresolved family history and racial tensions that threaten a Florida community.

With American Ghost, Janis Owens offers an evocative southern novel continuing in the tradition originally established by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and brought into the new millennium by writers like Karen Russell and Kathryn Stockett. Inspired by Owens’s extensive research on a real lynching that occurred in the 1930s, American Ghost is a richly woven exploration of how the events of our past can haunt our present.

Jolie Hoyt is the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher living in small-town Florida. Disregarding her family’s closet full of secrets and distrust of outsiders, she throws caution to the wind when she falls in love with Sam Lense, a Jewish anthropology student from Miami in town to study the region. But their affair ends abruptly when Sam is discovered to have pried too deeply into the town’s dark racial past and he becomes the latest victim of violence. Years later, Sam and Jolie are brought together again, and as they resolve the mistakes of their early love, they finally shed light on the ugly history of Jolie’s hometown. (From Goodreads)

Engrossing this novel certainly was, I definitely cannot deny that, though I think this illustration better demonstrates how I often felt while on this American Ghost reading journey:

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The beginning fully captured my attention and then I felt it kind of fell away a touch, until a pretty big event happened toward the middle. Here, it gathered its steam for me again. Then, it came to the time period where we find Jolie and Sam living for a number of years without each other and it felt like it was headed for that downward line. But it then again picks up speed as Sam and Jolie are thrown together to reveal the great secret Sam was becoming too close to uncovering the first time he was snooping around Hendrix. It definitely rose to engrossing heights here again, but alas, when the final reveal, or the build up to the reveal occurred it was a bit of a let-down. For me, the big secret didn’t come across as a big enough secret that was worth covering up at all costs used throughout the story. It ends very neat and tidy as well. Although I did thoroughly enjoy this story, absolutely, I cannot say it is any more than a “very good”read. 3.5 stars overall.

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