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The Twelve-Mile Straight

A Novel

by Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson X
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 560 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2018, 560 pages

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There are currently 29 reader reviews for The Twelve-Mile Straight
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Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

Beautifully Written with Empathy and Wisdom—But Not an Easy Book to Read
This is an extraordinary book that will transport you to a time and place of which you probably have little or no knowledge: rural Georgia at the start of the Great Depression. You will feel it. You will smell it. You will taste it. Yes, that is how exceptionally well this book is written.

That said, it is also a very difficult book to read for two reasons: the subject matter, some of which is graphically violent, and the density of the narrative. This is not a story that readers will sail through easily. While it is emotionally difficult reading—primarily because the characters have such tragic lives—it is a vitally important look at the not-so-distant past and some of its ugliest undertones.

Taking place in rural Cotton County, Georgia in the 1930s, this is primarily the story of white sharecropper Juke Jesup and his daughter, Elma, in a world where nearly everyone is poor and racism is boiling over. While Juke and Elma are at the center of the book, the cast of characters—black and white, rich and poor, male and female, child and adult—is extensive. Juke and Elma's world is turned upside-down when Elma, who isn't married, gets pregnant. She has twins—one is white and one is black. Horrific family secrets, gruesome lies and startling innuendoes unravel—slowly and then ever more quickly—while the ugliness and hate that are buried so close to the surface are shockingly revealed. This is not a book for the fainthearted!

Author Eleanor Henderson employs a fascinating literary technique. She spins the tale, and when a new character is introduced, off she goes with a long, involved and always fascinating story about that person. Then she comes back to the original plot…and wham! Off she goes on another character tangent. But here's the thing: It works! The plot stays fresh, and the characters are so real they almost jump off the page.

This absolutely compelling book is beautifully written with such empathy and wisdom that just by reading the words you will feel the scorching heat of Georgia in July, you'll see the dust that rises up in a drought and you'll (almost) taste the acrid moonshine the men so enjoy drinking.
Jeanne

The Twelve Mile Straight
Excellent & will stay with me. One of my top favorite books!
Power Reviewer
RebeccaR

An Engrossing Epic; An Emotional Rollercoaster
There are a lot of emotionally flawed human beings in this tale of Great-Depression-Era Georgia, and author Emily Henderson uses them to keep the reader on edge; one is never sure where the actions are leading, and this stays true to the very end. I can't really think of any good comparisons as many novels have these days, those "for fans of..." comparisons. There's a sprinkling of the more intense moments from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. and a sprinkling of the evil moments from Girsham's A Time To Kill and yet there is a lot more: well researched facts about that era, knowledge of 1930's life in rural, small Southern towns where prejudice, false pride, lack of education or opportunity in general, and a distinct line between have's and have-not's seems to be permanent for generations. Author Henderson captures the dialect perfectly as some morally reprehensible characters stomp their way through some forced and tragic miscegnation. If you're a reader that likes fairy tale romances, then this book may not be for you, but if you like a good story, an amazingly complex plot, and historical accuracy, then buy this book A.S.A.P. I think it would be good for book clubs as well.
Anl

Enjoyed
When I read the premise on the first few pages, I was underwowed. As I read on, I changed my mind as the author wove this through the plot in a believable and clever way. The characters were limited and well defined, so as to make the book a pleasant read. As heavy as most of it is, there is enough upbeat and hope that I fell good at the end. It is also easy to read. Stays out of injected opinions about social issues or politics which seems so present in many books today. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a slightly heavier than normal read with a different premise and plot twists.
Susan Braun

Living near the 12 mile straight
32 years ago, my husband accepted an appointment that took our family as far from our roots as we could possibly imagine. Although we were living in a small Pennsylvania town in the heart of the Susquehanna valley as far removed from all the conveniences both culinary and otherwise that we had grown up with, we were ill prepared for the move to a South we thought had ceased to exist. The South portrayed by Eleanor Henderson not only existed in some towns 32 years ago, the same is true today.

Based on stories her father and grandparents shared, she paints a vivid picture of the late 20s and mid 30s in the South of the sharecropper and mill towns where timber or cotton were king. Class distinction between the large farmers and factory owners, their workers and races was very distinct. Farm owners led separate lives from their sharecroppers although they would allow them better living accommodations while their coloured workers oft lived in shantys without any comforts. Factory workers lived in company owned homes in the factory town. The races lived separately in separate divided parts of town never to mix without consequences. When they did, there was hell to pay with a lynching not uncommon.

The story Eleanor Henderson weaves was part of the fabric of the deep South and one I heard often when I moved here. Whether it was to test my sensitivities or to educate me, I never did figure out but in many cases it was as an apology for a past many tried to forget. A past where many stereotypes still lay hidden with the rest of the family skeletons.
Chris H. (Wauwatosa, WI)

Twelve-Mile Straight
This is a book of perspectives and impressions. It covers a time period during the depression and prohibition. It is wonderful in the way the characters and their lives are intertwined. It brings racism to the fore. It is such a gripping and page turning read that leads one's mind to really think about the issues of the times. A book like this does not come around often!
Claire M. (Sarasota, FL)

The Twelve Mile Straight
There are so many reasons to read this vivid, beautifully written book about life as a sharecropper around the time of the depression. One is that if you think about it while you're reading you'll come away with a greater understanding of life as a black or poor white and how it is embedded in our culture. Another is Henderson's writing and structure. Elma, Nan and Juke are really the central characters and we are introduced to them in the first chapters. Moving on she goes sideways and back to show us how intricately those lives are part of a bigger picture-life in a small town in Georgia where everyone is part of the story.

Elma Jessup gives birth to what are called the Gemini twins – one light skinned the other dark. A black hired hand is accused of raping her and he is hung, which ultimately forces the townspeople to confront who they really are. She lives with her father Juke and Nan, the black daughter of her dead household help. Elma and Nan are like sisters - Nan can't speak because her mother cut out her tongue when she was a child. Elma is bringing up the twins as she can, but eventually all the lies and secrets of intertwined families begin to surface and the good and the evil in Florence, Cotton County, Georgia explain how we come to be where we are.
Cheryl P. (Lebanon, PA)

The Twelve Mile Straight
The Twelve Mile Straight left me with twelve miles of different emotions and thoughts about the book. The book was amazing in how the author intertwined the characters lives and their individual stories to come to settle in this impoverished town of Cotton County, Georgia.

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