Book Review and Giveaway: Under the Bayou Moon by Valerie Fraser Luesse

Valerie Fraser Luesse
Categories: Fiction / Christian / Historical
Publisher: Revell

Date of Publication: August 3, 2021

Number of Pages: 352

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When Ellie Fields accepts a teaching job in a tiny Louisiana town deep in bayou country in 1949, she knows her life will change–but she could never imagine just how dramatically.

Though rightfully suspicious of outsiders, who have threatened both their language and their unique culture, most of the residents come to appreciate the young and idealistic schoolteacher, and she’s soon teaching just about everyone, despite opposition from both the school board and a politician with ulterior motives. Yet it’s the lessons Ellie herself will learn–from new friends, a captivating Cajun fisherman, and even a legendary white alligator haunting the bayou–that will make all the difference.

Take a step away from the familiar and enter the shadowy waters of bayou country for a story of risk, resilience, and romance.

Ellie Fields comes to the small south Louisiana town of Bernadette, Louisiana looking to break out of the mold life seems to have set for her in her home state of Alabama. She isn’t sure who she’ll turn out to be, but she knows she can’t find out by staying where she’s always been. So she moves to a place where she knows no one to take the position of teacher in the town’s school.
The people of Bernadette are welcoming, but there is some skepticism about this new teacher. The state board of education decided that the French-speaking culture didn’t fit with the desired image of America, and the previous teacher had punished the students severely if they slipped and spoke in their native tongue. Ellie has her work cut out for her to not only educate the children, but to win their trust as well.
Raphe is a local fisherman who lost his family in a hurricane. He is raising his nephew Remy, who is one of Ellie’s students. He shares the legend of the white alligator, l’esprit blanc, with Ellie. She learns to love her new home, and the town comes to love and respect her for her care toward their children and their culture.
But all is not peaceful in Bernadette. As it does with just about everything in Louisiana, politics comes into play when a well-connected politician takes aim at enriching his bank account with the potential fortune in oil under Bernadette. He will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, and he doesn’t care who he has to hurt or kill to do it.
This book, y’all. I’m a Louisiana girl. (Raised in central Louisiana, not south, but still.) My former father-in-law was Cajun French. He’d tell us how they were punished if they spoke French in class. That is absolutely true. Louisiana, French to its core, tried to destroy its own heritage because some folks thought it was low-class. That breaks my heart. (Glad to say we got away from that narrow-minded attitude – I took French from elementary through high school, and French immersion classes aren’t uncommon these days. Trying to bring back what never should have been driven away.) The Cajun people will give you the shirt off their backs, but if they don’t trust you – and in the 1940s, they had no reason to trust anyone representing any aspect of the government – they will shut you out. Ellie had quite the task set for her, and Luesse has her handling that task admirably. I loved how Ellie drew in some of the older children to help her, not only to keep order, but to show all of them that she wasn’t interested in cutting off their connection to their roots. I loved how she used cultural aspects in the classroom, to engage the children and hold their interest.
And the politics ring true as well. Everything is political in Louisiana. That’s why our roads are hot garbage and so many things seem so very backward. It’s not out of the question that someone would bulldoze over others to get what they want if it stood to make them money.
The characters of the book were so vivid, I felt like they could live just down the road from me. The portrayal of the older Cajun ladies, willing to trade knowledge for knowledge, was marvelous. Haywood was a delight. I know people like Haywood, just full of the joy of life. He made me smile. And it was a treat seeing Ellie grow and blossom. She may not have known her own mind when she came to Bernadette, but she certainly went a long way toward figuring it out. I cried at the end, waving goodbye to friends.
Since this book is set in my home state, I was predisposed to like it before I turned the first page. The fact that the author is a Baylor graduate (like me!) also inclined me to think favorably of it. Now that I’ve finished, I can say that this is a book that will stay in my mind for a very, very long time. It isn’t the same type of magical realism as, say, Heather Webber or Sarah Addison Allen, but Under the Bayou Moon is magical all the same. Luesse draws a compelling picture of small-town south Louisiana, its people, and its culture, and that weaves a spell all its own. Go, read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Five luminous Louisiana stars for this Texas book.
Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac, Almost Home, and The Key to Everything, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave.

A copy of Under the Bayou Moon, $10 Starbucks gift card, & Flavors of the Bayou seasonings gift box.
(US only, ends midnight, CDT, 8/13/2021)

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4 Responses to Book Review and Giveaway: Under the Bayou Moon by Valerie Fraser Luesse

  1. Love this review — you are giddy over the book and it shows. Nothing better than to connect with a book in so many ways.

  2. Thank you so much for the review! If a Louisiana native gives it a thumbs-up, I’m thrilled. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

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