Author: R.A. Nelson
Publisher: Knopf, 2009
Where I got it: My local libary.
Why: I saw it on the horror shelf, read the flap and was intrigued.
Little Texas is not a place, but a person—16-year-old revivalist preacher Ronald Earl, hailed as a boy wonder and a faith healer. Since the age of 10, he has been preaching as part of the Hand of God ministry, headed by his great-aunt Miss Wanda Joy and in the company of Sugar Tom, an old evangelist preacher, and Certain Certain, descendant of slaves and Ronald Earl's confidante and best friend.
During one healing, he is struck by a girl in a blue dress he heals. She looks like a girl from dreams he's been having and can't shake the thought of her after they leave that small town. But then he sees her at the next meeting, and again, and again. Is she following him? Who is this mysterious girl in blue? And the question that plagues Ronald Earl most of all: is she even human?
The plot is what drives the story of Ronald Earl (aka Little Texas) and Lucy (the girl in the blue dress). The descriptions of the scary bits are great and definitely get your heart pumping. There were parts where I couldn't put the book down. But then again, once I did put it down I didn't feel too compelled to pick it up right away. I don't know if it was just my mood or the fact that I didn't necessarily have large chunks of time in which to read it. I broke it up too much and disturbed the flow of the story, making it less of a compelling read for me.
I am happy to say there are deeper issues and themes present within the story. Mainly a horror story, we follow Ronald Earl through his realizations of his own beliefs and his doubts of his faith. He is certainly a devout Christian who believes everything very strongly, yet he is growing into a man and, as it happens, begins to get urges that he sees as sinful and unholy.
I wasn't sure how Nelson would handle the Christian aspect of this book, especially once it's clear that it has a number of supernatural elements, one of which is the presence of ghosts. Yet Nelson never demeans Christianity, which I was afraid he would do; on the contrary, he seems to hold Ronald Earl up as a hero of the light. He certainly takes liberties within the story, as is the case with supernatural novels, but he is never condescending. Ronald Earl's faith is quite inspiring, though I wouldn't go so far as to say this book is a good example of Christian fiction (it's not at all). I think there is some doubt at the very end in Ronald Earl's mind about his faith, which just confused me; it is so out of place in the context of Ronald Earl's previous actions and thoughts.
Nelson also delves into issues like racism, as slavery plays a huge role in the plot. It almost bordered on saccharine toward the end, but there were some good messages about owning some of the responsibility for what happened in the past. As Certain Certain says, "It's what we all owe, Lightning [his name for Ronald Earl]. You know what I'm sayin'? Ain't enough just to say, 'Wasn't me, wasn't you'" (69). Lucy agrees later on: "I know, we didn't do it, we weren't alive back then...but we've benefited, right? From what our ancestors did? Even all these years later?" (371). It's at least an acknowledgement of white privilege, even if it gets a little schmaltzy. That, I think, is a start.
As for the characters, I felt they could have been more rounded out. Ronald Earl is kind of boring, to be honest, despite all the praise he gets from EVERYONE, including the ghosties. He's full of light, but he's still kind of dull. And the romance between him and Lucy was just so unbelievable to me. I still don't understand why Lucy loves him—where did she even get the information about him? Is it just because she's a ghost and knows stuff she wouldn't otherwise? And does Ronald Earl's love for Lucy just stem from his lust for her? I just don't buy it, and that's after I've suspended my disbelief to a large extent in the first place.
Miss Wanda Joy is pretty transparent. She claims to be a firm and devout believer, but it's clear she doesn't have the conviction Ronald Earl has. She's out to get enough money for them to live comfortably, especially toward the end. She is not a very good example of a Christian, in my opinion.
Also, what the heck was up with Faye? She was ALL OVER Ronald Earl and, after her role was played in the plot, she was barely mentioned again. I felt like she was just a plot device and had no value to the book other than as a source of information.
ANYWAY. I think that sums it all up. It was enjoyable, though I had trouble getting through it for whatever reason; I just wasn't feeling it at the time. But if you're looking for a ghost story with a different flavor, check this one out.