Listen up, y'all: Katie Crouch might be new on the literary block, but don't let the pristine white gown fool you - this is one wise, witty, heartbreaking debutante. Crouch's heroine, Sarah Walters, introduces us to Charleston, South Carolina's contemporary culture, which still includes Cotillion (instruction in formal dance, etiquette and social skills that the South continues to hold dear, like saying hello to perfect strangers on the street) in sharp-as-bougainvillea-thorns prose.
But Sarah and her fellow "Camellia Girls" must deal with more than white gloves and sweaty boys treading on their toes while attempting the foxtrot. These modern debutantes get accepted to Ivy League schools and get involved in and addicted to alcohol, drugs and bad men. They move to New York City and party, sleep around, get sick and sometimes even get clean, but they also remember their roots, and they're there for each other and for their families when it, inevitably, all falls apart.
Occasionally allowing us glimpses of the inner lives of her fellow debutantes, Sarah Walters has a fresh and winning voice, and Crouch easily maintains the reader's interest in her funny, painful journey all the way to the last page despite the lack of a conventionally laid-out plot. Girls in Trucks is not exactly experimental fiction - it's told in the linked-short-story format used in books like The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing - but it's not your grandmother's Southern saga either.
When Sarah returns to Charleston after tragedy strikes, nothing much has changed on the surface, but then nothing is what she thought it was in the first place, including her own mother or the other women in her life. These steel magnolias have plenty of rust, but they're all doing their best, and Sarah discovers that her best just might have come from the very place she's tried so hard to get away from.
Girls in Trucks is an exceptional, stylish debut from a refreshing new voice in fiction. An invitation to the ball has been issued, and I strongly suggest you attend.
Southerner Kristy Kiernan is a founder of The Debutante Ball, a blog featuring debut authors.