In her first novel, Sharon Wyse skillfully creates the diary of Lou Ann Campbell, an 11-year-old growing up on a wheat farm in northern Texas during the summer of 1960. Beginning when the yellow-green wheat is almost ripe and continuing through the harvest and preparation for the next season's planting, Lou Ann writes poignantly about her coming-of-age summer, during which she makes the painful transition from dolls and imaginary play to adolescent concerns such as sexuality and the status of her family in the outside world.
Isolated on a farm a few miles from the Oklahoma border, Lou Ann's only outside contacts are a friend at church, visitors on the Fourth of July and the wheaties who come each year to harvest the wheat. Her friends and confidantes are five tiny dolls she keeps hidden in a box, each representing one of her mother's five stillborn children. Lou Ann has to write in secret and hide her diary carefully each day so her mother won't find it. Clearly, isolation, grief and the unrelenting hard work of the farm have affected Loretta Campbell's abilities as a wife and mother. In a metaphor that describes her family, Lou Ann explains that when termites attack a house, the outside wood can look fine while the inside is being destroyed.
Despite her isolation and her dysfunctional family, Lou Ann possesses a remarkable spark of wisdom and inner strength. She marvels at the smell that comes before a rain and knows that she wants to remember it forever. She savors the nights when there are so many stars in the sky she could never count them all.
Eventually, the young girl comes to the crucial realization that the past is all we have to prepare ourselves for the future. Most importantly, in this memorable summer, Lou Ann learns what she needs to survive.
Alice Pelland came of age in Texas in the 1960s and writes from Hillsborough, North Carolina.