Stella Stands Aloneby A. LaFaye
Stella Reid is fighting to save the home she loves. After her father is killed and her mother succumbs to yellow fever, it's up to Stella to run Oak Grove, her family's plantation. Unlike most Southerners, Stella sees herself as equal to the African Americans she works side-by-side with in the cotton fields. The white Southerners reject her, and the freed men can't trust her after generations of enduring the horrors of slavery. So Stella stands alone as she fights to follow through on her father's dream to leave Oak Grove to her and the slaves. His will is nowhere to be found. Now, the bank has foreclosed on the plantation -- and the day of the auction is rapidly approaching. With no legal claim to the land, Stella is confronted with the possibility of losing Oak Grove, the only home she's ever known.
In this inspiring novel, A. LaFaye, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, recounts a young woman's struggle to save her family's land and preserve their memory, illuminating the harsh realities faced by women and freed slaves during the turbulent years after the Civil War.
LaFaye presents a solid example of alternate-history fiction set in Mississippi in 1866, imagining what it would have been like if some Southerners had tried to treat African Americans with justice and respect. Fourteen-year-old Stella's mother just died from yellow fever, and now the bank will repossess Oak Grove unless she can find her father's will and payment book. The townspeople refuse to deal fairly with her as she shares his views about the evil of slavery; in fact, he had promised to sign over ownership of the plantation to the black workers. Her only hope for keeping Oak Grove and fulfilling her father's vow is to find a Yankee to buy the property at auction. Enter Mr. Dooley, a Philadelphia lawyer. At first skeptical about Oak Grove's management-the workers hold meetings to vote on issues-he gradually comes to respect and appreciate Stella's views, and the two become partners. While not all of the characters are fully realized, the Reconstruction-period details are spot-on. Side plots dealing with the personal lives of ex-slaves lend glimpses into the heartbreak inflicted by slavery. Stella's ideas and actions are extremely modern but readers feel her frustration at the social constrictions she faces as a girl and her bewilderment and anger at the racism she witnesses.-Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA
Read an Excerpt
Even from my perch on the roof of Daddy's old office, I could only see a bit down the road on account of all the gnarly old oaks crowding in on both sides. So I didn't see the rust red of Mr. Daniel Richardson's vest until he came within shouting distance, and that's just where he stopped.
Stood there holding a hanky up to his mouth like the yellow fever that killed my mama might just fly out there and snatch him dead. "That you up there, Stella Reid?" he shouted.
I'm not one for idle talk, so I didn't bother answering.
"I've come to give you notice." He yelled so hard, his voice went scratchy. "The bank owns Oak Grove as of this morning. The property will be sold at auction. You have two weeks to pack your things and move on to your cousin Mertle's. Be sure to smoke that fever out of the house before you go."
He didn't even say "your property" because that suggested I had some claim to the land my family had owned since my great-granddaddy decided to try his hand at growing cotton back when them rabble rousers met in Philadelphia to start a revolution against them British.
It's all on account of we still couldn't find Daddy's will and the deed he kept with it. Mama and I had searched from the floorboards to the treetops for them papers, but found nothing. Not even the payment book that proved Daddy done paid every last penny for the land he bought from our neighbor Hendersen before he died. Then the bank started saying Daddy didn't pay down all the interest. Wouldn't give me no chance to pay it off myself. Said it's too long overdue now that Daddy's been gone near to a year. Not that they said one word on the matter before they sent us that foreclosure.
Richardson's the one who did all that falsifying. And you can bet on a Bible that he'll be the top bidder at that auction he'd been going on about. That man's had his eyes on Oak Grove since the day he opened them. All on account of the fact my great-granddaddy done bought the land from Richardson's granddaddy in a deal the Richardson clan called shady because the land they sold done produced more cotton than the land they'd kept. Now that old Richardson thought he had some kind of claim on the place. He wanted every last Reid off the land. Wouldn't even put it past him to be moving the people in the Reid family plot if he got his hands on Oak Grove. Why, he hadn't even waited an hour past the dawn of the third day after we buried my mama. Man had evil in his bones.
"Did you hear me, Stella Reid?"
My silence makes folks yell louder. Might be that believing I'm hard of hearing is easier to swallow than the offense of being ignored.
I began to think he might pop a vocal cord like a fiddle string. I decided to wait and see if such a thing could happen.
But he just shouted, "You've been warned." Then he walked off down the road.
Duly noted, you old coot, but I'd been eager to hear him bust a vocal cord. Then again, I might get that opportunity the next time we met. Old Man Richardson tended to do a lot of shouting around me.
Felt good to have him gone. Like a bad storm carried south toward the gulf, so it could just run out of wind over the ocean somewhere. Too bad such a storm couldn't take him out to sea.
I turned around for a look-see at Oak Grove, letting my eyes wander from Mama's resting place among the Reids sleeping under their grass blankets on the wooded hill due north to the tidy brick rows of the folks' quarters along the road headed south to the meeting house. I could near about smell the cotton growing in the summer sun.
A place soaks up its history. Things that happen there seep into the bricks of the houses and sift down into the soil of the fields, becoming permanent to anybody who could see the signs. My mama'd forever be in the garden where she laid down her own pathways in stones she quarried from the creek bed herself. My daddy'd never leave the stables where he'd carved the name of each horse into the stall doors. Mr. Beeman left his mark in the blacksmith's shop, working his own family sign to hang over the door. Wasn't an inch of Oak Grove that didn't speak of the past. That's why I could never leave it. I could hear and see those folks as if they never left. Who would tell of them with me gone?
Daniel Richardson could holler till the devil told him to pipe down. I'd never leave my home place. Never walk away from all that my family and the folks did to make this plantation fit enough to envy up the likes of Daniel Richardson.
The law may say I didn't own the land, but that same law used to say the people who worked this land were nothing more than my daddy's property. The Lord knows you can't own another person. And He's as much as told me He meant for me to keep Oak Grove not for myself mind you, but for the people who really owned the place.
Got families on this land that been working it since a Reid laid claim to the place. And I say working 'cause Daddy done paid those folks a wage since Granddaddy passed on back when I wasn't much more than a bawling baby. And Oak Grove is my world. A place where things run a little different. A bit more to the Lord's liking, in my way of thinking.
Since Daddy started running things, folks here got a living wage for their work. Most are saving up to buy their own land, but to do that they had to move away from Helensburg on account of the laws here say no black man can own property. Now, Yankee law throws that evil old law down the well. But you can't sell the planters in these parts on that idea.
That's why so many of the folks of Oak Grove stayed on, worked the place their family been working. Why the Winfields got them three generations buried down past the rock bed. Their kin and everyone who took a hoe to this soil have a claim on it. Daddy thought that way and meant to make it legal, but his mama wouldn't sign no papers to turn it over, saying weren't no black man going to own her land until they put her in the ground. And she weren't the only one giving Daddy trouble.
Why, Daddy couldn't do nothing on Oak Grove that went against the way of things without seeing blood run. The planters in these parts been breaking my Daddy down since I had a mind to know what's what. They had a law saying freedmen couldn't live in these parts, but Daddy still tried to give the folks of Oak Grove their freedom even before the war. Them planters fought like demons to keep things as they liked them.
Daddy'd pay for free papers on a body only to have Hendersen or Richardson or some other rich son of an evil planter send out a lying notice that said he owned the poor man who weren't nothing but a runaway. Hunted that fella down like a dog, burning his freedom papers, then worked him to the bone right where Daddy could see him. Driving that poor man so hard to punish him for thinking he could be free.
Daddy tried to buy the men back to Oak Grove, but them planters just laughed at him, sending him to seething so bad I thought he'd tear his office to the ground, smashing things and breaking windows, cursing till the devil sat up to listen.
But Daddy kept trying. Sent folks under the cover of night on the railroad with no tracks that led north to freedom and land of their own. But Daddy couldn't do it fastlike or the planters in these parts would get wise and turn their sights on the people of Oak Grove again, threatening fire or accidents like the blade that nearly took Daddy's foot off when he tried to buy him a new thresher the day he sent Granddaddy's carpenter, Mr. Parker, north, or the grain hatch opening up on Grady Tanbridge the morning before he planned to take the railroad out of town, or the Nelson twins drowning in the creek before their mama could take them to meet up with their daddy, who'd reached Ohio that spring.
The folks on Oak Grove had stepped into a deadly dance with the planters here in the Natchez district, each one trying to fool the other into thinking they hadn't missed a step. Our people dancing real prettylike, hoping nobody could see the one we tried to shuffle off the dance floor to freedom.
But the planters in these parts had their eyes fit to bore through your soul. They caught on to too many things. No matter how careful we stepped, they usually showed up to cut off our toes. And Richardson had him a right sharp knife, ready to cut away all of Oak Grove this time. And I had nothing but prayer and a promise standing between me and that blade.
If I had the power, I'd sign all of us onto the deed of Oak Grove, make it legal a match to what the Lord knows to be true. Those who work the land own it by just rights. They'd be taking what's owed them by my reckoning. Ain't no one going to move me or the folks who work it off Oak Grove.
But Richardson's been trying to do it for years. When Daddy died, Richardson started coming round to talk Mama into selling. She'd answered him with a shotgun blast over his head and a demand to have her squatter's rights till she could find the deed and be legal. He'd scurry off into the woods like a scared little rabbit, shouting back, "You find your papers. I'll find mine."
Never knew what he meant until he came a calling about a foreclosure. Yellow fever took Mama from this world, so now Richardson wanted me to pack my things and move into town with Cousin Mertle, like our family hadn't bought the land from his generations ago. Well, he'd be waiting for the Mississippi to freeze in New Orleans before I packed anything more than his empty threats. I planned on staying there on the land to which I was born.
Copyright © 2008 by A. LaFaye
Meet the Author
A. LaFaye (the "A" is for Alexandria) is the author of Worth, for which she received the Scott O'Dell Award, as well as The Year of the Sawdust Man, Nissa's Place, The Strength of Saints, Edith Shay, Strawberry Hill, and Dad, in Spirit. She teaches at California State University at San Bernardino during the school year and at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, in the summer. She lives in Cabot, Arkansas.
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Wow! You are really talented! Keep making this story!!!
True to her reputation and savoir faire Alexandria Lafaye offers a unique post Civil War novel with Stella Stands Alone. A combination of rich language and intricate plot puts the reader right into Stella's shoes. Stella's passion, determination and courage to fight for her family's plantation and the people who work on the property will talk to modern girls. A. Lafaye, true to her signature, remains the best writer of all when it comes to portraying human nature. As it is with real people, nobody is 100% good or bad in Stella Stands Alone. Surprising twists will turn regular people into heroes, will make the best intentioned people trip and it will reassure young girls that hope, audacity and faith will carry them through the challenges of life. As always A. Lafaye favors humor, unique language and imagery to make her characters so alive that you expect them to pay you a visit. A MUST read book that should be studied at school in English class and social studies.
A. LaFaye's historical account of life in the south permeates this great work of fiction. Growing up surrounded by the cotton fields of the MS delta, I've been saturated with my grandfather's stories of his memories of working as a sharecropper for a prominent plantation owner. A. LaFaye takes the reader back to those times to experience the trials and triumphs of the Deep South side-by-side with Stella Reid. Stella Stands Alone is a wonderful way to discover the realities and prejudices of those historical times and how one person really can make a positive difference.