Adult Fiction book review

The Last Carolina Girl by Meagan Church

About the Book

Some folks will do anything to control the wild spirit of a Carolina girl…

For fourteen-year-old Leah Payne, life in her beloved coastal Carolina town is as simple as it is free. Devoted to her lumberjack father and running through the wilds where the forest meets the shore, Leah’s country life is as natural as the Loblolly pines that rise to greet the Southern sky.

When an accident takes her father’s life, Leah is wrenched from her small community and cast into a family of strangers with a terrible secret. Separated from her only home, Leah is kept apart from the family and forced to act as a helpmate for the well-to-do household. When a moment of violence and prejudice thrusts Leah into the center of the state’s shameful darkness, she must fight for her own future against a world that doesn’t always value the wild spirit of a Carolina girl.

Set in 1935 against the very real backdrop of a recently formed state eugenics board, The Last Carolina Girl is a powerful and heart-wrenching story of fierce strength, forgotten history, autonomy, and the places and people we ultimately call home.

Librarian Laura’s Review of The Last Carolina Girl

The Last Carolina Girl by Meagan Church is a very well-researched piece of historical fiction that you won’t want to miss. It will publish with Sourcebooks Landmark on March 7, 2023. Fans of Where the Crawdads Sing and Necessary Lies will adore this touching story. This story also has a very personal connection to me, and I’ll explain that later in this post.

Part literary fiction, part coming-of-age story, it includes some very heavy themes of poverty, loss, and grief, but also themes of family and friendship. The Last Carolina Girl is a thought-provoking story of growing up in the South, finding one’s place in life, and standing up for what is right and just. The atmospheric details of place and descriptive text used by Church allow readers to be transported back to Leah’s life in 1935 North Carolina. Leah’s brave spirit to continue on, even when faced with obstacles and adversity that seemed insurmountable is commendable and also so very encouraging. Most heartbreaking for me is that all Leah ever wanted after losing her mother at a young age and then her father at the tender age of 14 was to feel belonging and love, but unfortunately the system truly failed her in that respect. This story deals with the truly horrifying subject of forced sterilization. Reading about Leah’s experience left me feeling angry and so very sad that so many people did not get a choice about their future, and the choice was unfairly and cruelly made for them.

The story was even more heart breaking for me personally knowing that the story is based on what actually happened to my dear great-aunt Virginia, who was sterilized by the state of Indiana around the age of 12, after being sent to an institution and labeled “feebleminded”. It was all so tragic and unnecessary. In the author’s note at the back, we find out that this story was inspired by the author’s Aunt Virginia, the very same sweet, loving woman I called Aunt Virginia. You see, Virginia was sent to live with a foster family at a very young age in 1919. The family she came to live with was my maternal grandmother’s family, on a family farm which is located less than 1 mile down the road from my home. My grandmother Mary remained close with Virginia throughout their lives, and actually helped Virginia locate her biological mother and a sibling much later in her life. I firmly agree with the author’s description of Aunt Virginia in the author’s note. I have such fond memories of Virginia and her kind, gentle spirit and loving demeanor. I did not know about her story until after she passed away at the age of 92. I cherish the memories I have of sweet Aunt Virginia, and I’m truly thankful to Meagan for the way she brought Virginia’s story to life a bit through a brave, kind-hearted girl named Leah. While reading the story, all I wanted to do was embrace Leah and tell her that she is so very loved.

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