The Patron Saint of Red Chevys


The Patron Saint of Red Chevys

The Patron Saint of Red Chevys

The Patron Saint of Red Chevys

By Kay Sloan

Early one morning, Bernice Starling, a onetime blues singer in Mississippi, is murdered in her pickup, leaving behind a husband and two daughters. Later that same day, local TV weatherman Levi Litvak is killed in a fiery one-car crash. Soon, rumors begin to fly: Levi and Bernice had been lovers; Levi ended both of their lives when Bernice broke it off.

The ramifications of Bernice’s murder fall hard on her family. And for years, the rumors continue, some of them racially charged. Bernice’s younger daughter, Jubilee, inherits her mother’s red Chevy truck but refuses to wash away the memory of her mother in the blood on the seats, instead draping bath towels over them like slipcovers. But eventually, Jubilee decides to escape the lingering memories of her mother’s death by applying herself at school and making plans to attend college far away, at Berkeley. Will a simple change in geography make things better? As Jubilee tells her boyfriend, “I’ll always be different because of what happened to my mother.” The truth of her mother’s life is just a small part of this beautifully written story, which follows Jubilee’s wrenching search — simply for a way out. (Fall 2004 Selection)

School Library Journal reviewer:
Sloan captures amazingly well the spirit of involvement and confident experimentation that supercharged the Bay Area in the 1960s, and she paints vivid images of the Northern California landscape that formed the background to that cultural movement. [I particularly appreciated this aspect of the novel, since I grew up in Northern California and deeply appreciate the landscape there. As for the Bay Area, I was there too during the time Sloan writes about. That time and place are rarely portrayed by writers in a way that feels true to me, or does them justice, but Sloan succeeds.]

The broader context of Jubilee’s life, America in a major period of transition, is equally well portrayed, and it’s interesting to revisit that time now, when we’re in another such time of turmoil, a backlash of racial prejudice whipped up by a minority but made large by the media. A novel like this puts things into perspective.

The book received recognition as a young adult novel by the ALA, and indeed older teens can enjoy Jubilee’s strong voice and will identify with her search for her heart’s true home during years of wrenching change. But it wasn’t really written, published, or promoted for the YA market (which starts with much younger readers), it was written for adults. Adult readers will find this an interesting view of fairly recent times, especially if they are old enough to remember them. And of course they will see the coming of age theme from a very different vantage point.

For me, the juxtaposition of Mississippi (which feels like a completely alien culture to me even now) and Northern California (my home ground), as experienced by the same character an a single story, shed a new sort of light on my understanding of the US as we are now.

Booklist Review:
Mississippi, 1964: Bernice Starling, a blues singer of some repute, is stabbed to death. Her two young daughters decide they want to find the killer, but it’s a tricky job, and there are plenty of suspects: a local bigot, their mother’s lover, a random passerby, even their own father. This isn’t the first novel to feature a teenage amateur sleuth, but neither Jubilee Starling nor her sister, Charlene, is likely to be mistaken for Nancy Drew, and this Mississippi town with its racially charged atmosphere sure isn’t River Heights. In the end, it doesn’t matter whodunit, because this isn’t really a mystery novel at all. It’s a family drama, the coming-of-age story of two young girls who lose their mother and decide to do something about it. Fresh, enticing, often elegantly written. –David Pitt Copyright Booklist

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