Isaiah High and Angel Corey had been close friends since they were babies. Although they lived in the South under Jim Crow (he is black and she is white), Angel's father was unconventional and progressive for his time in that he was friendly to the blacks in Gideon, TX, and opened his store to them. He also maintained a close friendship with Isaiah's father, forged on the battle fields of WWI, and unbroken by the South's segregated and racist society.
As the children grew older, however, their parents recognized the very real dangers that existed if they maintained contact, and so they were forbidden from interacting once they hit adolescence. This could not prevent Angel and Isaiah from continuing to love one another from afar. And when Isaiah joined the Army just before WWII, they wrote letters back and forth consistently throughout the duration of the War. The reader gets to read these letters at the beginning and end of each chapter, and they add a rich, descriptive depth to the events as they are currently happening in the story.
Isaiah returns to Gideon, TX, just days after Angel's father passes away, and they strike up a friendship again, despite the dangers and the warnings from their allies. Isaiah is bitter and jaded from the horrors he witnessed in Europe, and he's determined that he will not stay in Gideon. But he cannot bring himself to leave Angel, and finally the two acquiesce to the long-suppressed feelings they have harbored for one another. But now they must face the danger that lurks in the town of Gideon, where many of the residents would rather see both of them dead before they saw a white woman be with a black man.
This book is richly detailed, putting the reader in the setting. Vivid secondary characters beautifully complement the plot and the primary characters. The letters between Angel and Isaiah during the war were a wonderful addition, and beautifully written. This book deals with a lot of spiritual and religious elements, but is not inspirational, per se. There is one sex scene, and it is not graphic, but is described in detail. There is a lot of talk about God in this story, mainly as the characters wonder how God could allow so much evil to be propagated in its name.
I actually wavered between 4 and 5 stars on this, only because - despite the fact that the writing was excellent, the plot solid, and the story lovely, I never felt quite connected to the relationship between the characters. Sometimes the romance itself took a backseat to the overarching racial and WWII-era anti-Semitic themes.
But ultimately I rated it five stars, because the story deserves it. I would recommend this to anyone who likes interracial romances, or just racial themes in general, or anyone who likes WWII era romance, because - WOW - the historical detail is so well-described and the reader can really place herself in the shoes of the characters. I could really feel the dangers and the emotions as the events unfolded, and this is the type of quality writing I have come to expect from this author.
I actually used the highlight feature in this book! :-) which I rarely do. But here are some of my favorite quotes that I highlighted:And standing here now in the hot sun, he had to tell himself the truth or be damned. He hadn't come home to see his mama or deliver Gudren or any of the other things he'd told himself he had to do. He had come home because Angel was here. Every road always led back to her somehow.
At seven, Isaiah had told his father he intended to marry Angel Corey. Jordan had stopped dead in the middle of the bridge and knelt down to stare in his son's eyes. He gripped Isaiah's arms so hard there had been bruises the next day. "No you ain't, boy. Don't you ever say it again. Ever. Hear?"
Something terrible had happened, he thought. "Angel," he said gently, holding the umbrella over her. "What are you doing, girl?"
She swiveled her face around to him and the stillness he had thought to be some kind of pitiable defeat showed instead to be a clear and burning fury. With an expression of great disdain, she lifted her chin at the porch.
Isaiah looked. In red paint on the floor of the porch, someone had scrawled "nigger lover" in letters two feet high. A chill touched him.
How could you carry the inside of a person with you and not call them a friend, no matter what the rules said?
"Seems to me people are mean or evil because they're scared, mostly, or in pain, or afraid they're going to lose something."
Best friend. That's what he'd told her last night. You couldn't hate your best friend. And she was that, all right, his best friend in the world. But a man didn't want to do things to a friend that holding her for five minutes this morning had brought to his mind. A man didn't think about slipping the old, tired robe from the body of his friend, thinking of touching the fresh supple skin below. A man didn't ache all day with hunger for a friend.
He kissed her. "Since we were babies, Angel," he said hoarsely, "since we built that tree house, every day during the war, always, always, always I loved you."