I set this story back in my own dreaming, small-town South, in my own time, 1961: that suspended time swung between two epochs that shaped America for good and all. I think I chose it because that turbulent transition was the greatest epiphany of my life, a crossing from the sweet, insular world I knew to another one, volatile and frightening and yet entirely necessary and right.
-- Anne Rivers Siddons
Peyton is not ready to share her widowed father with anyone, let alone a barely remembered cousin who just rolled into town, a cousin who smokes cigarettes and drives a pink Thunderbird. However, her father seems to like Nora well enough, and she does make for good conversation at the Losers Club, and prim Aunt Augusta hates her, which raises Nora slightly in Peyton's esteem. Maybe she isn't so bad -- maybe Nora is just what quiet Lytton, Georgia, needs this summer.
The whole household is revitalized by Nora's energy, and when she takes a job teaching the first integrated honors class at the local high school, it looks as if she might stay on forever. But soon it becomes clear that something is troubling Nora deeply. Peyton believes that whatever it is, it must be more than the snide comments made by neighbors who don't like her "unsouthern" ways. Nora always laughs that off. It has to be something from her past that's bothering her, something she is running away from. When the shocking truth comes to light, it stuns the residents of their small segregated town. It also teaches Peyton the enormous cost of loving -- and the necessity of doing it anyway.
Peyton McKenzie changed her name when she was six years old, on the first day of her first year in elementary school. For all her short life she had been called Prilla or sometimes Priscilla, her first name, the latter usually when she was In Trouble, but that stopped with rocklike finality when the first scabby classmate began to chant, "Prilla, Prilla, mother-killer." By the time the entire first grade in the Lytton Grammar School had taken up the refrain, Peyton McKenzie had been born, and there was no chance at all that she would return to the womb.
"It's a man's name, for heaven's sake, Priscilla," her Aunt Augusta said in exasperation for the fourth or fifth time, after Peyton's father had given up on her. "What's wrong with 'Priscilla'? It's a lovely name. Generations of your mama's family have named their daughters Priscilla. I believe the first was Priscilla Barnwell, who came over to Virginia well before the American Revolution. You should...
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