In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty. This is part coming-of-age, part American history, and part old-fashioned family saga set during a very hot and sweltering summer in the southern US.
Though there are several narrators in this post-depression story, the primary one is twelve-year old Willa, a headstrong, bright, and observant member of the mysterious Romeyn family. She has a sister Bird and twin aunts who also live at the house, her mother is gone, her father ostensibly does some kind of work selling chemicals, and the household is run by her spinster Aunt Jottie. Layla enters this strange household, chocka-block full of family secrets, as a boarder while she writes the town history for the FWP.
Annie Barrows is best known for co-authoring The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer. As in Guernsey, there is a delightfully lively sense of humour in the writing of this novel and an ability to create charmingly eccentric characters. The novel begins a bit slowly, but picks up around the p. 200 mark.