Laura Lane McNeal’s debut novel is a gift to readers who long for an iced-tea-sipping, front-porch-swing kind of escape. With Dollbaby, McNeal took this New Orleans native on a trip back to my hometown, complete with the smells, landmarks and traditions that make me proud to call the Crescent City home.

When young Ibby Bell is dropped off at the doorstep of her grandmother, Fannie, in the summer of 1964, she is a child without a family. Her father, Fannie’s son, has died suddenly, and her mother has vanished, unwilling to raise her only child.

Ibby is soon indoctrinated into the ways of New Orleans by Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her spunky daughter, Dollbaby. Ibby quickly realizes that her lively grandmother is no Southern wallflower. Still, Fannie’s history was full of tragedy even before the death of her son, and Queenie and Dollbaby must help Ibby navigate the secrets that Fannie has locked away. Over time, Ibby grows to love and understand her quirky, moody, gambling grandmother.

However, Dollbaby is not just a lighthearted Southern novel, it’s also an exploration of the racial and political unrest of the 1960s. McNeal artfully uses the views of both white and black characters to capture an accurate snapshot of the social unrest in New Orleans.

McNeal’s witty prose and expertise on all things New Orleans will enrapture readers of The Help and Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood.

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