Excerpt from The Saints and Sinners of Okay County by Dayna Dunbar, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Saints and Sinners of Okay County

by Dayna Dunbar

The Saints and Sinners of Okay County
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2005, 336 pages

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A flash of light caught Aletta's eye, and she turned to watch her eldest daughter's twirling team march into view. Sissy and the other girls wore white Keds, sequined one-piece outfits, Supp-Hose, and big smiles. They tossed their batons high in the air, light glinting from the silver metal. Aletta stood up and cheered for her pretty fourteen-year-old. Pride swelled inside her chest, and she thought that maybe she was doing something right.

Ruby and Randy ran toward Aletta. Randy's face paint was smeared across his pudgy cheeks, and bits of cotton candy clung to his home-cut bowl-shaped hair.

"Do you see Sissy?!" he yelled.

"I see her. She's doin' great," Aletta said.

"Sissy!" Randy screamed, waving frantically.

"Not so loud, honey. How much sugar have you had?"

"A ton," Ruby said.

Not two minutes after Sissy marched by, the Burning Bush Battle Church banner approached. Aletta wanted to run inside to avoid her mama, one of the brightest of the Bushes. But when she saw Reverend Taylor, she sat stuck in her chair. At first she thought he must be attached to the float by a rod up his backside because of the look on his face. It was a mix of holier-than-thou and y'all are my people, a tricky combination. Plump in his gray leisure suit, he waved and beckoned.

Behind him, a man dressed as a lion with a huge head full of sharp teeth battled with a sheet-wrapped teenage boy. They wrestled so fiercely that Aletta feared one of them was going to fly off the flatbed trailer. Strapped onto a cross behind them, Jesus overlooked the fight. He was sweating so badly that his fake blood had turned pink and ran in rivulets onto his drooping beard and down his chest.

Spreading out from the float, several dozen people dressed in their church clothes handed out pamphlets. Odiemae Sharp caught a toe on the curb as she beelined toward Aletta, causing her to do a little skippity-hop on her way across the grass. She was darned fit for a lady of her age.

"Here y'are, Aletta. We look for you ever' Sunday, you know," she said, holding out a pamphlet.

Aletta noticed Odiemae's silver hair coming in beneath her brown dye job, but her hazel eyes were clear as a child's. It was just her mama's friend, but still she felt the old pang of guilt for not being the daughter she was supposed to be.

Aletta took the pamphlet but made sure their hands didn't touch.

"Thanks," Aletta said, looking past Odiemae. "Where is she?"

"Oh, she stayed home, complainin' of old age." "But she's strong as a mule." Aletta hadn't seen her mama in almost five months. It seemed they just couldn't be around each other anymore without a bitterness rising up like a wind before the rain.

"Well, I gotta run," Odiemae said. "How long before the little one comes?"

"Just a couple more months."

"I'm sure your mama's proud. She's a saint of a woman, you know."

Aletta looked down at the full-color pamphlet in her hand. The Burning Bush Battle Church, it said across the top, Battling to Save Your Soul. Below a painting of a bush aflame, there was a Bible quote: Whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:20. Aletta tossed it onto the table without opening it.

Near the end of the day, Eugene Kirshka walked up and slid a quarter across the table. "I'll take one, please," he said, his rounded cheeks making him look boyish despite six feet of lanky, milk-fed build. His light brown hair looked unruly without the cap that normally sat on his head.

"You're an awful big spender," Aletta said.

He took a sip of watery lemonade. "How you holdin' up without him?"

"Not so good," she said, her smile fading. He was the only one to ask her about Jimmy all day. People around here handled hard times, especially emotional ones, by not talking about them, unless of course they had anything to do with bad weather or surgery. "You're his friend. You tell me what he's doin'."

Excerpted from The Saints and Sinners of Okay County by Dayna Dunbar Copyright© 2003 by Dayna Dunbar. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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