Dollbaby: A Novel

Dollbaby: A Novel

by Laura Lane McNeal

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780670014736
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/03/2014
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,274,507
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author


Laura Lane McNeal grew up in New Orleans, where she lives today with her husband and two sons. She graduated from Southern Methodist University. She also has an MBA from Tulane and ran her own marketing consulting firm in New Orleans. This is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Chapter One


“Ibby?” Her mother turned down the radio and began drumming her fingers on the steering wheel.

Ibby ignored her, letting her mother’s words mingle with the buzz of the air conditioning and the drone of the idling car engine as she craned her neck, trying to get a better look at the house that was stubbornly obscured by the sprawling branches of a giant oak tree and the glare of the midmorning sun. She cupped her hands over her eyes and glanced up to find a weathervane shaped like a racehorse jutting high above the tallest branches of the tree. It was flapping to and fro in the tepid air, unable to quite make the total spin around the rusted stake, giving the poor horse the appearance of being tethered there against its will.

I know that feeling, Ibby thought.

The weathervane was perched atop a long spire attached to a cupola. Ibby’s eyes traveled to the second-floor balcony, then down to the front porch, where a pair of rocking chairs and a porch swing swayed gently beside mahogany doors inlaid with glass. Surrounded on all sides by a low iron fence, the house looked like an animal that had outgrown its cage.

Her mother had described it as a Queen Anne Victorian monstrosity that should have been bulldozed years ago. Ibby now understood what she meant. The old mansion was suffering from years of neglect. A thick layer of dirt muddied the blue paint, windows were boarded up, and the front yard was so overgrown with wild azaleas and unruly boxwoods that Ibby could barely make out the brick walkway that led up to the house.

“Liberty, are you listening to me?”
Vidrine’s face was glistening with sweat despite the air conditioning tousling her well-lacquered hair. She patted the side of her mouth with her finger, trying to salvage the orange lipstick that was seeping into the creases and filling the car with the smell of melted wax.

“Damn humidity,” Vidrine huffed. “No one should have to live in a place hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.”

The heat, her mother claimed, was one of the reasons she and Ibby’s father had moved away from New Orleans just after they married. Far, far away. To a little town called Olympia, in the state of Washington. Where no one had a Southern accent. Except, on occasion, the Bell family.

“Whatever you do, Liberty Bell, don’t forget this.” Vidrine patted the double-handled brass urn sitting like a sentinel between them on the front seat. Her mouth curled up at the edges. “Be sure and tell your grandmother it’s a present from me.”

Ibby glanced down at the urn her mother was pushing her way. A week ago that urn didn’t exist. Now she was being told to give it to a grandmother she’d never met. Ibby turned and looked at the house again. She didn’t know which was worse, the sneer on her mother’s face, or the thought of having to go into that big ugly house to meet her grandmother for the first time.

She eyed her mother, wondering why no one had bothered to mention that she even had a grandmother until a few months ago. She’d learned about it by chance, when on a clear day in March, as her father went to pay for ice cream at the school fair, a faded photograph fell from his wallet and floated wearily to the ground. Ibby picked it up and studied the stone-faced woman in the picture for a moment before her daddy took it from her.

“Who is that?” Ibby asked.

“Oh, that’s your grandmother,” he said, hastily stuffing the photo back into his wallet in a way that made it clear that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Later that week, while she and Vidrine were doing the dishes, Ibby got up enough gumption to ask her mother about the woman in the photograph. Vidrine glared at her with those big round eyes that looked like cue balls and threw the dish towel to the ground, slammed her fist on the counter, then launched into a lengthy tirade that made it clear that Frances Hadley Bell, otherwise known as Fannie, was the other reason they’d moved away from New Orleans right after she and Graham Bell were married.

And now here Ibby was, about to be dropped off at this woman’s house without any fanfare, and her mother acting as if it were no big deal.

“Why are you leaving me here? Can’t I come with you?” Ibby pleaded.

Her mother fell back against the seat, exasperated. “Now, Ibby, we’ve been through this a thousand times. Now that your father has passed away, I need some time away . . . to think.”

“Why won’t you tell me where you’re going?”

“That’s something you just don’t need to know,” Vidrine snapped.

“How long will you be gone?”

Vidrine frowned. “A few days. Maybe a week. It’s hard to tell. Your grandmother was kind enough to offer to keep you until I figure this whole thing out.”

Ibby’s ears perked up. Kind was not one of the words her mother had used to describe Fannie Bell.

In the background, she could hear the radio.

“This is WTIX Radio New Orleans,” the announcer said. “Up next, The Moody Blues . . .”

“Turn that up—that was one of Daddy’s favorite new bands,” Ibby said.

Vidrine turned off the radio. “Now go on. She won’t bite.” She poked Ibby in the ribs, causing the brass urn to teeter and fall over on the seat.

Ibby straightened it back up, letting her fingers linger on the cool brass handle. She swallowed hard, wondering why her mother was being so secretive. Now that her father was gone, she got the feeling that what her mother really wanted was to get away from her.

Vidrine leaned over and said in a soft voice, “Now listen, honey, I know it’s hard to understand why God takes some people from this earth before their time. But he took your daddy in a silly bicycle accident. And now . . . well, we just have to move on somehow.”

Ibby gave her mother a sideways glance. God was a word her mother had never uttered until her father died, and being left with someone she’d never met for an indefinite period of time wasn’t exactly Ibby’s idea of moving on. But she was just shy of twelve years old, and no one had bothered to ask her opinion on the matter.
Vidrine crossed her arms. “Liberty Alice Bell, quit your whining and get on out of this car right now. I’ve got to go.”

“But Mom—”

“Now remember what I told you. Be a good girl. Don’t give your grandmother any trouble. And one more thing.” Her mother leaned in closer and wagged a finger. “Try not to pick up any of those awful expressions like y’all or ain’t. It’s just not ladylike. Understand me?”

Before Ibby could answer, Vidrine reached over, opened the door, and pushed her out of the car.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Dollbaby"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Laura Lane McNeal.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher


“In this tender coming-of-age novel, McNeal brings to life a place, an era, and an amazing cast of strong, larger-than-life characters. Heartrending, captivating, and ultimately, triumphant.”
Cassandra King, New York Times bestselling author of Moonrise

“McNeal’s Dollbaby is such an impressive debut—a powerful roux of family drama, long-simmering secrets and resentments, and ultimately, forgiveness and redemption. Deeply evocative, with memorable characters, Dollbaby belongs on the keeper shelf along with The Help and The Secret Life of Bees.”
Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of Ladies' Night

Reading Group Guide

1. Ibby’s arrival to Fannie’s home is the catalyst for change. How does Ibby transform the household?

2. Ibby is warned early on not to ask Fannie about her past. Why is she given this advice?

3. Why does Vidrine leave Ibby with Fannie? Later, after four years, why does Vidrine suddenly come back and what does she wish to achieve from the visit?

4. As Ibby lives in Fannie’s house, she begins to uncover its hidden truths, both physically and emotionally. What secrets does the house hide, and what do they mean to her?

5. In some ways Fannie is very old-fashioned, yet in other ways she seems quite progressive for someone of her era. How would you characterize her, and why?

6. Dollbaby wants to participate in the civil rights protests but Queenie tries to discourage her. What is the difference between their views on the issue and why do you think they differ?

7. As the era unfolds, what are its political effects on Fannie’s household? How do the realities of race and class trickle down to affect the characters’ lives?

8. Fannie tells Ibby that she must be “willing to live the life that is waiting for you.” What does she mean by this, and how does the advice relate to both of their lives?

9. Through this novel McNeal seems to suggest that family is what we make it. How does Ibby’s adopted family influence the person she ultimately becomes?

Customer Reviews

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Dollbaby: A Novel 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
KDH_Reviews More than 1 year ago
There's so many things that I absolutely love about Dollbaby. It's set in the South. Being from the South, I always love reading about the history and culture in fiction books. The Southern-isms (like "bless your heart" is more insulting than complimentary) are wonderfully done in this book. It's about learning family secrets. Southern families (and I'm sure this isn't just a Southern thing, but that's where my experience lies), it seems, are full of crazy secrets. Whether it's discovering your own family secrets or someone else's, it's always interesting. It's a coming of age story. Taking place over eight years, we see growth mostly in Ibby, but there's change in the entire cast of characters. Speaking of which, it's got such delightful, realistic characters. I loved them all. The only thing that I was confused about during my time reading this book was why it was named as such. Surely a book about Ibby shouldn't be named Dollbaby. By the end of the book, though, it makes perfect sense. And I absolutely loved it. While I enjoyed the entire book, the last few chapters are really what made me fall in love with it. Dollbaby is a great story. It's touching and just all around wonderful. I highly recommend this one. * This book was received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. * You can read all of my reviews on my blog, KDH Reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Laura Lane McNeal paints exquisite portraits of real New Orleans people, not Downtown folks like Stella and Stanley Kowalski. No these are the city’s elite, Fannie Bell and her granddaughter Liberty, living in a Queen Anne Victorian mansion on Prytania Street. Their streetcar line is not Desire, but St. Charles where bankers, brokers and shipping executives ride home each evening in white linen and fashionable seersucker suits up one of America’s most spectacular boulevards lined with one legendary mansion after another. At Miss Fannie’s, there are servants, black ladies in the southern style, Queenie and her daughter Doll. But just like down in the gritty part of the city where Stanley, Stella and Blanche wrestle with their impossible lives, Uptown on Prytania, there are what some today call issues. Are there ever. You see, in Ms. McNeal’s New Orleans it’s 1964. And 188 miles north up the Illinois Central Railroad Mississippi Freedom Summer is unfolding in Jackson, a little southern city rapidly becoming infamous throughout the world for racist brutality, murder and lawless mobs of night riders. This is the world that Mississippi native Vidrine Bell pushes her shocked, frightened daughter Ibby into, really — pushes the child out of the car and onto the sidewalk in front of her grandmother’s house. Ibby's mother’s parting advice had been “Liberty Alice Bell, quit your whining …" Extremely well written. Totally fascinating.
quaintinns More than 1 year ago
A special thank you to PENGUIN GROUP Viking, Pamela Dorman Books, and NetGalley for an ARC, in exchange for an honest review. Move over Southern writers, this newfound author is here to stay! THIS GIRL IS ON FIRE! Laura Lane McNeal, where have you been? Hands down, DOLLBABY, A predicted bestseller chart topper. From the exquisite and stunning front cover, beautiful fonts, and the intricate filigree throughout the book—resonating the elegant New Orleans style of southern charm and sophistication, worthy of this much loved historical setting—matched with a beautifully- written, impressive debut novel, from the first page to the last. A heartwarming and poignant story of strong women, facing many obstacles, tragedies, and challenges in a time of racial tension during the 60’s and 70’s. From Civil Rights, Vietnam, family secrets, and lies, to the days of Woolworth’s, President Johnson, Black and white TVs to color---in the exciting and beautiful southern backdrop, where architecture, jazz, music, dance, southern creole and Cajun food feed your soul. What a storyteller---this inspiring, uplifting and funny novel, full of flawed and lovable characters, will keep crying and laughing, as they win reader’s hearts. It was 1964 and Liberty Alice Bell (Ibby) 12 yr.-old, born on July 4th, from Washington, has just lost her dad, due to a biking accident (they were on their father-daughter outing). Ibby’s mom, Vidrine, (not a very caring mom), dumps her daughter, (with no explanation), along with her dad’s ashes and an urn---on her eccentric grandmother, Fannie’s doorstep, in the historical area of New Orleans. Of course, Vidrine does not care for her mother-in-law, and the feeling is most definitely, mutual. Ibby is not aware she has a grandmother prior to this date, nor is she knowledgeable of her southern roots, her dad’s family, or anything about this foreign culture. She is grief stricken, and now left alone with a grandmother she does not even know, in a strange town. Boy, is she in for a treat of her life, when she is greeted by Fannie’s black, smart and wise housekeeper, and cook-- Queenie, who seems to run the household. Queenie came with the house, and has been with Miss Fannie since she was eighteen. She has seen and heard it all, and well equipped for the job! This group loves hiding things, and keeping secrets to protect their owner. (And let me tell you, this family has plenty of dark, hidden secrets), keeping you engrossed from beginning to end! As Ibby searches for a family and her own identify, she finally comes to know her real grandmother, with all her secrets and flaws; and love of the other powerful women in the house on Prytania Street, who irrevocably shaped and nurtured her grandmother, past the ghosts she left behind. From the flash backs to the fifties to the present time of sixties through the seventies – what a ride, from loss and love, to forgiveness and redemption. Would love to continue to hear more about future adventures of Ibby, Doll, Birdelia, and T-Bone. Fans will definitely root for a movie –as can you image the cast? A powerful, thought-provoking, inspiring, and satisfying read. I highly recommend! A talented author you will want to follow for years to come-can’t wait to see what comes next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Treat yourself to this book. If you love stories abo ut young girls growing up with struggles, with odd characters, with loving characters, this will be a great read for you. Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story. Made me laugh, made me cry and made me fall in love with quite a few characters in the book. Story similar to 'the help' but a more interesting character line up, each with their own past and personality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the book the story plot kept me wanting more I couldn't put the book down read it even during my lunch breaks at work because I was sooo obssesed. MUST READ
MonicaFMF More than 1 year ago
Ibby Bell's mother has decided to abandon her with a newly, to her, discovered grandmother in a strange, faraway place after her father's sudden passing. She's convinced she will be miserable and will just have to count days til her mother returns. How long will she wait? Could there be anything good in this weird house? A powerful, emotionally charged narrative guides characters and readers through turmoils of the 60s-70s as well as personal struggles. Characters are authentic, emotional, caring, and develop as the story progresses. Overall, a compelling read.
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
An Enjoyable if Obvious Read. If you love New Orleans (one of my favorite cities) then this novel evokes that city, beautifully. Set from 1964-1972, the action covers the Civil Rights Movement from the perspectives of an eccentric (of course) New Orleans family with plenty of dark secrets--obviously. I kept thinking of 'The Help' throughout yet the characters here did not draw me in the way that previous novel's did. But this is generally well written and keeps you interested despite the fact there are no real surprises. A lot of this is predictable if you're paying attention and the same kinds of family 'mysteries' appear in countless other tales set in the Deep South, in particular. All that being said, I would recommend picking this up--it's a fast and engaging experience for the most part, and I think the author has a lot of potential.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Don't be misled into reading this because it is compared to The Help and The Secret Life of Bees. It IS set in the south in the sixties and does have white and black people but it is not as well written and has so many lost chances to expand and take the characters deeper into the events of the story and their relationships. I must admit I skimmed ALOT just to get to the end. The story dragged and the author seemed to be trying just a bit too hard to include elements and flavors of New Orleans and the sixties. It was tiresome. Predictable plot line that wrapped up nice and tidy in the end. My eyes were rolling constantly for the last 100 pages.
EMS11 More than 1 year ago
This novel is memorable and if you love the South, strong characters that overcome adversity, or well written prose you won't be able to put this book down.  I can't wait to read it again!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a story of how revealed family secrets, good or bad, validate who you are.
Anonymous 3 months ago
A beautiful and tragic story. Friendship and family intertwined.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Loved this book & the strong southern women who hold life together through darkness & pain arriving victorious through their journey together. Like Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt & The Help you are drawn in by the quirky lovable characters becoming one of the family. You feel the warmth of their touch, the love & hugs that make life all better. A sweet book.
Anonymous 10 months ago
I really enjoyed the characters and layers of the story.
Anonymous 10 months ago
What a great book, I was crying at the end but happy tears,,,
Anonymous 11 months ago
First half of book slow and boring, 2nd half became slightly more interesting. Would not recommend I struggled to get through it.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Very rewarding book about life and how you never the secrets of someone else’s heart.
Anonymous 11 months ago
This book cptures the essence of New Orleans.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Loved this book. Couldn't put it down.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Never a dull moment in 1960s New Orleans when an 11 year old girl is dropped off at a grandma she's never known's house. Interesting blended family. Good, strong characters.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Great book!
Anonymous 12 months ago
I love the story line it all came full circle for Ibby’s family we all have quirky members.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lots of unexpected twists and turns!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
Dollbaby is a book that I started one morning and by the next morning I was finished. I could not put it down. The characters are so relatable, lovable, and people I cared about by the time I was done reading about their lives. I felt like Laura Lane McNeal created characters that could be my friends, she let the reader learn about the characters personal lives, their real feelings, and their real fears. Dollbaby is set in New Orleans right before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Queenie and Doll are the maids that come with the house that Frannie lives in. While Queenie believes that this act will not mean anything, Dollbaby wants to step out and fight for her rights. It is not an easy life for white people or black people. There is a lot of violence, especially in the south. I believe that both races are trying to come to terms with where the world is heading. I enjoyed that both Ibby and Frannie, the white people, seemed to understand the Civil Rights Act and know that it was going to be a big change in the world. Ibby, Fannie’s 12 year old granddaughter, is dropped off at her grandmother’s house by her mother and never picked back up. I felt for Ibby’s rejection by her mother. This is a tough subject at any age much less as a teenager. She was left in a town she was not familiar with, with people she did not know, and she was thrown into a world so different from what she knew. I felt that this was a great read. It was not always an easy subject to read about but the book was easy to read. The history, the characters, the setting were all perfect.