Way back when Oprah's book club was going strong, I would delight in her picks by debut authors which placed the spotlight on new and fresh talent. I still miss Oprah's book club, even though she does give a fantastic list of new books coming out each month in her magazine. I also have become skilled in picking out books that are very possible Oprah picks. Prayers and Lies by Sherri Wood Emmons is just that book. The book spans several decades as it traces the path of a family from a poor West Virginia town. Bethany is the youngest of four girls in her family and the narrator of this story. Her two oldest sister, Melinda and Nancy, have each other to hang out with. Bethany is left to share a bedroom with her older sister, Tracy, who is an angry and unpredictable. While Bethany's family lives in Indianapolis, they spend their summers in West Virginia in the town where their father grew up with an aunt. Bethany loves this place more than anyone else in her family. Her cousin Reana Mae lives there, and the two love playing together, forming a bond that is more like that of sisters - something Bethany does not feel she has with her own siblings.
When the girls are still young their differences are not as obvious to them. But as they grow up a bit, it is easy to see how different their lives will end up. Reana's mother is abusive, an alcoholic. Her father is often gone, and rumor has it he is living with a girlfriend elsewhere. His younger brother Caleb moves in to help out with things, but he and Reana begin a relationship that is inappropriate and harmful in many ways. While Bethany's life isn't perfect, her day to day existence is much more the norm for an eleven year old girl.
As time passes, Reana Mae and Bethany once again draw closer together when Reana moves in with Bethany's family. Although time passes, the two remain as close as sisters. Family secrets are revealed and the West Virginia roots that both girls have continue to be a part of their lives.
I enjoyed reading the questions that Sherri Wood Emmons answers at book's end. Emmons addresses questions about two characters - Tracy and Caleb. Neither character is likeable, and yet despite their problems it is hard not to feel a bit sorry for them and what led them to become the people they were. Early on it was easy to see that Tracy had some problems. For me, I had a harder time even allowing myself to believe that Caleb would have a relationship with his eleven year old niece. While I didn't like Caleb, I wondered at his own childhood and what happened in his past that would cause him to behave like he did.
I especially loved Bethany and her mother, Helen. Bethany was able to see the good in her West Virginia roots and her mother also felt a connection and loyalty to her family.
In some ways this book reminded me of Tawni O'Dell's Back Roads, an Oprah pick from long ago set in a western Pennsylvania mining town.
Prayers and Lies was a book that I devoured, beginning it yesterday morning and finishing it before bed. This would be a great book club choice and will appeal to readers who enjoy women's fiction.