Walking Through Shadows

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Overview

"The mysterious murder of seventeen-year-old Sheila Barnes on Lloyd Cotton's dairy farm scandalizes the quiet town of Zebulon, Mississippi, in 1941. Among those most deeply affected by the tragedy are her young husband, Stoney, and the Cotton family, who took Sheila in and loved her as their own." Though abused by her father, labeled "slow-witted," and burdened with a physical deformity, Sheila approaches life with a cheerful optimism and an unwavering belief in the power of everyday magic. She quickly becomes the Best Friend of eleven-year-old
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Walking Through Shadows

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Overview

"The mysterious murder of seventeen-year-old Sheila Barnes on Lloyd Cotton's dairy farm scandalizes the quiet town of Zebulon, Mississippi, in 1941. Among those most deeply affected by the tragedy are her young husband, Stoney, and the Cotton family, who took Sheila in and loved her as their own." Though abused by her father, labeled "slow-witted," and burdened with a physical deformity, Sheila approaches life with a cheerful optimism and an unwavering belief in the power of everyday magic. She quickly becomes the Best Friend of eleven-year-old Annette Cotton, and somehow charms and changes everyone around her, proving to many that wisdom often comes from unlikely places.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The arrival of a battered girl disrupts life on a Mississippi dairy farm during WWII in Marshall's debut, an effective if somewhat overwritten story of a lurid smalltown crime. Sheila Carruth is the young girl who is rescued from her abusive father when Lloyd Cotton offers her a place to live and hires her to clean up after his cows. The skinny, humpbacked girl quickly masters the work and wins over Cotton; his wife, Rowena; and their prepubescent daughter, Annette, with her sunny disposition. Romance follows when she attracts the attention of a farmhand named Stoney Barnes. Their unlikely love affair leads to a wedding and a difficult pregnancy, but real trouble surfaces when Stoney starts beating Sheila, and Stoney's brutal father and brother begin paying the couple threatening visits. The combustible mix of personalities finally explodes, and Sheila is found strangled to death in Cotton's cornfield, at which point local reporter Leland Graves steps in to narrate Stoney's trial. Marshall delivers fine character studies in her well-drawn portraits of Stoney, Sheila, Cotton and his family, and the tension is heightened by the strictures of mid-century morality. But the murder is described by so many different narrators that the story runs out of steam by the time Marshall finally gets to Stoney's version. Nevertheless, this is a solid debut. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (Apr. 1) Forecast: If properly marketed in the South, this novel could rack up strong regional sales, though it faces competition from a bevy of similar titles. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Teens who think "Greek tragedy" in Zebulon, MS, in 1941, as they read a reporter's words about the discovery of a corpse will have a foreshadowing of where this novel is going. Sheila Barnes arrives at the Cottons' dairy farm to take on a job as bottle washer and barn cleaner to escape her father. Annette, the Cottons' 11-year-old daughter, immediately sizes her up as best-friend material. Sheila is plain and uneducated, and has a hump on her back. She has spent the whole of her life being abused by her father, and yet she is full of love, common sense, and compassion. When she marries handsome Stoney Barnes, a fellow worker in the Cotton Dairy, readers hope her travails are over. That is not to be, however, as the themes of jealousy, rage, violence, and victimization play out their sorry stories in her life. The story of the 17-year-old's murder, and its eventual resolution, is told in the first person by a succession of characters who knew her and whose lives she touched. When readers eventually learn who the killer is, the final act of this tragedy is in place. This is a moving and beautifully written story that has the same authentic feel for a small southern town as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (Lippincott, 1961) and Olive Ann Burns's Cold Sassy Tree (Ticknor & Fields, 1984).-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Newcomer Marshall attempts to pull heartstrings while creating suspense in this murder mystery set in rural 1941 Mississippi. Since Lloyd Cotton's wife Rowena convinced him to hire Sheila Barnes two years earlier to save the girl from an abusive father, Sheila has proven a hard worker on Lloyd's dairy farm. Despite being uneducated and, according to Rowena, slow (although the only evidence is unquenchable optimism despite continual mistreatment), she offers spiritual wisdom the supposedly intelligent Cottons take seriously. Waiflike and mildly deformed, she also exudes an animal magnetism that affects every male she encounters. One morning 17-year-old Sheila turns up missing, When her battered, pregnant body is found in a nearby field, the police line up their suspects: Sheila's demented father, her handsome but dimwitted husband Stoney, and Lloyd himself. Marshall approaches and re-approaches Sheila's story, Rashomon-style, through five narrators. Lloyd's 11-year-old daughter Amanda, who considers Sheila her best friend, recounts Sheila's life at the dairy with an innocence undercut by confused guilt over her own attraction to Stoney and her pubescent need for independence from her doting parents. Genteel Rowena's version is colored by her difficult, unexpected pregnancy and long-repressed anger over Lloyd's infidelity years before. When the old affair becomes a public scandal, suspicion lands on Lloyd and rocks his marriage. In his narration, Lloyd acknowledges his inappropriate, unspoken attraction to Sheila and his powerlessness in the face of the scandal. We also hear from Stoney, whose passion for Sheila is both childlike and violent, and from a newspaper reporter who, whileunraveling the case, finds himself attracted to the wife of Stoney's older, handsomer, and more vicious brother. Sheila remains a victim cliché despite (or because of) Marshall's attempt to make her a symbol of desecrated innocence. No one will be shocked to learn who impregnated or killed her. Predictable southern gothic, but the modulated scrutiny of the Cotton marriage is memorable.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931561051
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 6.27 (w) x 9.27 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Reading Group Guide

When Lloyd Cotton hears that Sheila Barnes is consistently beaten by her daddy, he offers her a room and a job cleaning up around his dairy farm. Despite physical deformity, poverty, and years of abuse, Sheila manages to see the silver lining in every cloud--and her bright spirit touches everyone in the Cotton family, including young Annette who finds an enchanting Best Friend. Stoney Barnes, the handsome boy who milks the cows, is especially taken with Sheila. And when they marry, it seems that God has finally given her the good graces she deserves.

But in a cruel twist of fate, Sheila's body is found in the cornfields. Soon the little town of Zebulon, Mississippi, is awash in scandal. Who would want the innocent young woman dead? Her alcoholic father, her opinionated husband, or perhaps the faithfully married Lloyd Cotton, about whom unsavory rumors swirl?

Surprising secrets will crack open a rural community, and more than one family will suffer in the telling.

1. What do you think the author is trying to accomplish by telling the story from five different perspectives? Do you think this goal is achieved? Why do you think these particular points of view were chosen? Is there another character you wish she had chosen, and if so, why?

2. Sheila has a significant effect on the lives of nearly every character in the novel and their perceptions of her differ greatly. How would you assess her qualities? Was she strong, wise, simple, or merely pathetic?

3. Sheila's optimistic outlook influences nearly everyone around her. Do you know anyone like Sheila who seems to brighten the lives of everyone around them?

4. Annette grew up without siblings until Lil' Bit came along, andthis is in part why Sheila becomes her best friend. Do you have any brothers or sisters? If so, how do you think your life would have been different if you had been raised as an only child? If you are an only child, how would your life have differed with siblings?

5. Do you think Uncle Walter and Gloria should have taken Lil' Bit away from the Cotton family? How could the situation have been handled differently?

6. When Rowena is incapacitated after Lil' Bit is taken away, it is Sheila who pulls her out of her depression. Have you ever experienced a similar loss? What, or who helped you recover?

7. Why do you think Sheila chose not to tell anyone about Hugh raping her? What do you think would have happened had she told? How do you think the story is changed by the baby being conceived by rape as opposed to by Sheila having an affair with Hugh?

8. Lloyd and Rowena have both suffered disappointments in their marriage and yet there seems to be a strong bond between them. How would you characterize their relationship? What roles do Lloyd's affair, Sheila's murder, and Rowena's pregnancy play in their marriage?

9. What do you think would have happened if Sheila had lived? Would she and Stoney have raised the baby on their own? Would Hugh have eventually learned that the baby was his?

10. The identity of Sheila's murderer isn't revealed until very late in the novel. Were there other characters whom you suspected? If so, why did you suspect them?

11. Earlene Barnes feels guilty for not coming forward about Hugh's behavior earlier. Do you think that her information would have changed the situation? In what way? Has there ever been an instance in your life when you felt there would have been a different outcome if you had spoken up about an issue earlier?

12. Sheila teaches Annette the trick of walking through her shadow to help overcome her sadness and her fears. Do you have any tricks that help you deal with your emotions when something upsets you?

13. What are the "shadows" that each character faces? In what ways do they deal with these shadows differently? What shadows do you face in your own life? How do you handle them?

14. To what extent is the story dependent upon the time in which it occurs? Could these events have taken place in today's society? How might they have been different?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2006

    Heartfelt Reading

    I really enjoyed this book, to was hard to put down. It is well written and made you feel like you were in the South during the 40s with Annette and the others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2002

    An Incredible Debut

    Walking Through Shadows tells the story of Sheila Barnes, a very unique seventeen-year-old girl who has a profound effect on the lives of the people around her. The novel is set in a quiet little town in Mississippi in 1941. Sheila, who has suffered from brutal abuse from her father, is invited to move to Lloyd Cotton¿s dairy farm to escape her horrible situation and work for him. Everyone who comes into contact with Sheila grows to adore her and the town is astounded when Sheila is found dead in the cornfields. All the characters are suddenly forced to deal with perplexing circumstances. But those who knew Sheila well and grieved the most would come to find that they have learned many lessons from her that would help them to deal with the tragedy of her death. Bev Marshall created an enthralling world that I was eager to visit each time I opened her book and sad to leave when I had to put it down for a moment. She has an extraordinary ability to allow the reader to hear each character¿s voice clearly. All the different accounts given by each character of the events in the story help the reader to see all the sides through many sets of eyes and commiserate with everyone involved. The story is beautifully crafted and undeniably magical. I identify with the young girl, Annette. I can relate with her innocent ways of viewing the world and how they caused her deep torment and confusion in trying to deal with the realities throughout the book. I believe everyone can find a character, if not several, to which he or she can relate. I¿m glad Bev Marshall is sharing her story with the world. I strongly urge everyone to pick up her book and enter this world she has created and be as enchanted as I have been.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2009

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