Norris Church Mailer has taken the old adage write what you know to heart. Born in Atkins, Arkansas, a town famous for its fine pickles, Mailer sets her debut novel in Sweet Valley, a place much like her old stomping grounds. (Like her heroine in Windchill Summer, Mailer once worked in a pickle plant.) The time is 1969, the year of Woodstock, free love, the first moon landing, and widespread anti-war protests. And as the world dramatically changes outside Sweet Valley, Arkansas, slow seismic changes are also occurring in this sleepy enclave and in the lives of its inhabitants. It is a summer of firsts for Mailer's funny, lovable heroine Cherry, who is facing her senior year of college and who-knows-what after that. When a cool, good-looking foreigner comes to town (a Californian), Cherry finds herself experimenting with pot, losing her virginity, questioning her fundamentalist upbringing, and learning a thing or two about herself in the process. As Cherry blossoms and awakens to the world around her, she arrives at some not so comfortable realizations. Cherry and her best friend Baby, the pretty, petite daughter of Filipino immigrants, discover that no matter how deep their bond, no friendships are perfect, and no one is without their secrets not a person, not a family, not a town. Coming to terms with this is at the heart of the novel. Sweet Valley has the usual assortment of Bible bangers, good old boys, and backwoods types you might expect in a small southern town, but none of them can be reduced to caricature. Instead, Mailer has created a memorable cast of characters and a fresh, endearing heroine in Cherry. Though the author has name recognition working in her favor (she's been married to Norman Mailer for 25 years), her unique voice and ability to spin a rousing good story are what make this a noteworthy novel. Mailer shows a real gift for capturing the feel of a small southern town, evoking an era, and creating characters who resonate with readers. Windchill Summer is a refreshing debut summer reading at its best.

Katherine Wyrick was born and raised in Arkansas.

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