To Live Forever by Andra Watkins
Author: Andra Watkins
Genre: Fiction (Speculative / 1970s / New Orleans / Mississippi / Historical Figures Fictionalized / Child Narrator)
Publisher/Publication Date: World Hermit Press (3/1/2014)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: A young girl is saved from a predatory man by the stuck-in-limbo ghost of Meriwether Lewis.
Reading Challenges: E-book
Do I like the cover?: I uh-dore it. Clean, sharp, eye-catching.
I'm reminded of...: Cass Dalglish, Michael Williams
First line: A drop of sweat hung from the end of my nose.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.
Why did I get this book?: The set up was too bonkers to resist!
Review: The premise of this book is completely bananas, and I mean that in the best way.
The ghost of Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) is on his 13th and last mission to redeem his soul when he's sent to 1977 New Orleans. Tasked with helping Emmeline, a 9-year old girl who was just sold by her prostitute mother to the highest bidder, he agrees to help her find her father. They're pursued by a murderous judge who is convinced Emmeline is the reincarnation of his beloved wife -- and worse, as Merry discovers, the judge is a lost ghost like himself, and a dark figure from Merry's past.
To return Emmeline to her father in Nashville, Merry treks the Natchez Trace -- a 400+ mile long trail that runs from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee -- which is also the site of his mysterious death. The journey transforms them while providing many moments of danger and excitement for the reader.
Despite the crazy setup, the story works, and works well. Alternating viewpoints between Merry, Emmeline, and the Judge, Watkins manages to make this credulity-straining premise feel believable and real. There's some philosophical wrestling that makes this lightly literary but doesn't get so ethereal as to lose the emotional oomph from Emmeline's plight. The Judge is unabashedly malevolent while Merry struggles to be the best kind of (ghost) man he can for Emmeline's sake. Emmeline herself shifts between childishness and too-early maturity and provides the real emotional hook of the story.
Watkins walked the entire Natchez Trace in honor of the book's debut and her passion for the place shines through in her writing.
While not precisely historical fiction -- the novel is set in 1977 -- it has a sense of place and time from our ghostly characters that inspired me to start googling the moment I finished. If you like adventure stories with strong young women and you don't mind a little paranormal-ness, consider this one. It might sound odd, but I promise there's a lovely emotional payoff along with some eye-opening details about Meriwether Lewis and the first governor of Louisiana (a double agent, as it turns out!).
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I'm thrilled to offer a copy of To Live Forever to one lucky reader -- a paperback copy (US) or ebook (US/international). To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 4/18.