Little Altars Everywhere

Little Altars Everywhere

by Rebecca Wells
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Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells

Little Altars Everywhere is a national best-seller, a companion to Rebecca Wells's celebrated novel Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Originally published in 1992, Little Altars introduces Sidda, Vivi, the rest of the spirited walker clan, and the indomitable Ya-Yas.

Told in alternating voices of Vivi and her husband, Big Shep, along with Sidda, her siblings Little Shep, Lulu, Baylor, and Cheney and Willetta—the black couple who impact the Walkers' lives in ways they never fully comprehend—Little Altars embraces nearly thirty years of life on the plantation in Thorton, Louisiana, where the cloying air of the bayou and a web of family secrets at once shelter, trap and define an utterly original community of souls.

Author Biography: Rebecca Wells, a Louisiana native, is an author, actor and playwright. Her works for the stage include Splittin' Hairs and Gloria Duplex, for which she created the lead roles.

She has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Western States Book Award for her first novel, Little Altars Everywhere.

She tours a one-woman show based on Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780736687997
Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
Publication date: 04/28/2002
Series: Ya-Yas Series , #2
Edition description: Unabridged

About the Author

Writer, actor, and playwright Rebecca Wells is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Ya-Yas in Bloom, Little Altars Everywhere, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which was made into a feature film. A native of Louisiana, she now lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest.


An island near Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Alexandria, Louisiana


B.A., Louisiana State University; Graduate work, Louisiana State University and Naropa Institute

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Wilderness Training

{Siddalee, 1963}

One thing I really hate about Girl Scouts is those uniforms. Theybring out my worst features -- fat arms and short legs. Mama tries her best to give that drab green get-up some style, but I just get sent home with a note because the glitzy pieces of costume jewelry she pins on me are against regulations.

The only reason I joined Scouts in the first place was all because of merit badges. I wanted to earn more of those things than any other girl in Central Louisiana. I wanted my sash to be so heavy with badges that it would sag off my shoulder when I walked. There wouldn't be any doubt about how outstanding I was. When I walked past the mothers waiting in their station wagons outside the parish hall, I wanted them to shake their heads in amazement. I wanted them to mutter, I just don't know how in the world the child does it! That Siddalee Walker is such a superior Girl Scout.

I love going over and over the checklists for earning those badges in the Girl Scout Handbook. I have eight badges. More than M'lain Chauvin, who constantly tries to beat me in every single thing. I have got to keep my eye on that girl. She is one of my best friends, and we compete in everything from music lessons to telephone manners.

I was making real progress with my badges, and then our Girl Scout troop leader up and quit right after the Christmas holidays. She said she could no longer handle the stress of scouting. She didn't even tell usherself -- just sent a note to the Girl Scout bigwigs, and they cancelled our meetings until they could find someone to take us on.

And wouldn't you know it, out of the wild blue, Mama and Necie Ogden decide to take things over and lead our troop. I could not believe my ears. Mama and Necie have been best friends since age five. Along with Caro and Teensy, they make up the "Ya-Yas." The Ya-Yas drink bourbon and branch water and go shopping together. All day long every Thursday, they play bourrée, which is a kind of cutthroat Louisiana poker. When you get the right cards, you yell out "Bourrée!" real loud, slam your cards down on the table, then go fix another drink. The Ya-Yas had all their kids at just about the same time, but then Necie kept going and had some more. Their idol is Tallulah Bankhead, and they call everyone "Dahling" just like she did. Their favorite singer is Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand, depending on their moods. The Ya-Yas all love to sing. Also, the Ya-Yas were briefly arrested for something they did when they were in high school, but Mama won't tell me what it was because she says I'm too young to comprehend.

At least Necie goes out and gets herself a Girl Scout leader's outfit. Mama will not let anything remotely resembling a Scout-leader uniform touch her skin. She says, Those things are manufactured by Old Hag International. She says, If they insist on keeping those hideous uniforms, then they should change the name from "Girl Scouts" to "Neuter Scouts."

Mama drew up some sketches of new designs for Girl Scout uniforms that she said were far more flattering than the old ones. But none of the Scout bigwigs would listen to her. So instead, she shows up at every meeting wearing her famous orange stretch pants and those huge monster sweaters.

The first official act of Mama and Necie's reign is to completely scrap merit badges, because Mama says they make us look like military midgets.

Whenever I gripe about being cut off just as I was about to earn my Advanced Cooking badge, Mama says, Zip it, kiddo. Don't ever admit you know a thing about cooking or it'll be used against you in later life.

Now at our meetings, instead of working on our Hospitality, Music, and Sewing badges, they have us work on dramatic readings. They make us memorize James Whitcomb Riley and Carl Sandburg poems and then Mama coaches us on how to recite them. She calls out, Enunciate, dahling! Feel it! Feel it! Love those words out into the air!

All my popular girlfriends look at me like: Oh, we never knew you came from a nuthouse. I just lie and tell them Mama used to be a Broadway actress, when all she ever really did in New York was model hats for a year until she got lonely enough to come home and marry Daddy.

Our annual Scout camp-out always comes up just after Easter. I just dread it. I'm in the middle of reading a truly inspiring book called Judy's Journey. It's all about this girl who's exactly my age, and she and, her whole family are migrant workers. They have to travel from place to place, living hand-to-mouth. Judy works in the fields and never complains, and she is brave, and a hard worker, and very popular with all the other migrant kids. Her father plays the harmonica, and her mother is so kind and quiet. I fantasize around fifty times a day about being her instead of me. I would just kill to stay in my room and finish that book instead of going on a stupid camp-out, but you've got to do these things whether you want to or not. Otherwise any chance you have at popularity can go straight down the drain and you will never get it back.

You have to start early if you plan to be popular. Mama was extremely popular when she was growing up. She was elected Most Well-Liked, she was head cheerleader, captain of the girls' tennis team...

Little Altars Everywhere. Copyright © by Rebecca Wells. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

OOH! MY SOUL Siddalee, 1991.......... xi

PART ONE.......... 3
WILDERNESS TRAINING Siddalee, 1963.......... 3
CHOREOGRAPHY Siddalee, 1961.......... 15
WANDERING EYE Big Shep, 1962.......... 27
SKINNY-DIPPING Baylor, 1963.......... 39
BOOKWORMS Viviane, 1964.......... 51
CRUELTY TO ANIMALS Little Shep, 1964.......... 67
BEATITUDES Siddalee, 1963.......... 79
THE ELF AND THE FAIRY Siddalee, 1963.......... 91
THE PRINCESS OF GIMMEE Lulu, 1967.......... 99
HAIR OF THE DOG Siddalee, 1965.......... 113

PART TWO.......... 131
WILLETTA'S WITNESS Willetta, 1990.......... 131
SNUGGLING Little Shep, 1990.......... 145
CATFISH DREAMS Baylor, 1990.......... 153
E-Z BOY WAR Big Shep, 1991.......... 169
PLAYBOY'S SCRAPBOOK Chaney, 1991.......... 185
LOOKING FOR MY MULES Viviane, 1991.......... 195
VIDEO Siddalee, 1991

What People are Saying About This

W P. Kinsella

Voice and energy are two prerequisites for successful storytelling. Little Altars Everywhere displays very strong voices, and the energy fairly crackles off the page. Rebecca Wells is a writer to watch.

Andrew Ward

Some writers have all the luck. Not only did Rebecca Wells get to be Catholic, she also got to come from Louisiana. This means that half of her is crazy. Out of this chemistry she has written a brilliant, pungent, and hilarious novel about the Walker clan of Thorton, Louisiana....I'd like you to meet Miss Siddalee Walker, a force of nature and a tool of fate, and one of the sharpest-eyed little chatterboxes since Huckleberry Finn. Little Altars everywhere teems with the wonderful characters....But it's Wells' tireless and ruthless evocation of childhood combined with an unfailingly shrewd comic ear that makes "Little Alters Everywhere" such a thoroughly joyful and welcomed noise.

Pat Conroy

What an exciting new voice, and what a splendid first novel. Just wonderful!

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
I feel a hairline fracture of pain in my heart. And I feel it: the sweet pure longing of each of us, still intact. My family stands in a circle around me. All the innocence, the old woundings. It grows so quiet. I feel my godchild's breathing against my chest, but it is also the breathing of parched babies in drought-stricken lands. I feel each member of my family's breath dropping in and out, until it seems like we are all part of one giant bellows. And all the suffering spirals down into one shaft of sunlight which shines though one stained glass window in Thornton, Louisiana. This is what I come home to. I do not have to crawl across the desert on my knees. I do not have to swim through turbulent oceans to stop the drownings. All I have to do is watch and pray, and love them. Not save them, not hurt them, just love them.

Little Altars Everywhere, the first novel by Rebecca Wells, is the bittersweet story of the Walker clan of Thornton, Louisiana. Vivi Abbot Walker, the mother, is the eye of the hurricane. Her husband, Shep, is a cotton planter, and the two of them have four children: Siddalee, Little Shep, Baylor, and Lulu, who is named for Tallulah Bankhead, one of her mother's patron saints.

Each member of this funny, charming, and wounded family describes the view from his or her perch on the family tree. The book opens in 1963 with the recollections of Siddalee as a young girl, and continues with entries from her siblings, parents, and the black "help" who cannot save the Walker's from their darkness.

Twenty-seven years later, Wells returns to the Walkers, and this time the stories are startlingly different. The previous stories weren'tnecessarily lies, but they weren't the whole truth. It becomes clear that ultimately, there is no one truth within a family; there are only each character's tiny pin-light of truth. Little Altars Everywhere is finally about the tiny murders that occur within a loving but lost Catholic Louisiana family. It offers no miracles of redemption; instead it suggests the power of an open heart to offer protection to the innocent.

1. Wells uses multiple narrators to unfold the story in Little Altars Everywhere. What advantages are gained by this? Does this multiple perspective mean that we sense the story from a broader perspective from that of any one character? And what, if any value, is that broader perspective when evaluating the moral behavior of a character? Does the use of multiple narrators point to a truth that is too big, too uncertain, and too complex for any one character or person to put all together into a cogent vision? Do multiple narrators soften our judgments about a character?

2. What attitude does the novel take toward institutional religion (i.e., denominations), spirituality (a belief in and need for God and meaning), and human suffering. Catholicism is a strong presence in the novel. How does Catholicism both bless and damage the Walker family?

3. Vivi imparts a complex legacy to her children. What are the ingredients of this legacy? Shame? Suffering? A sense of wonder? A capacity for rapture?

4. Wells has said that "humor is the healing art." Discuss this in light of this novel.

5. Wells opens the novel with references to Little Richard in the "Prologue" and to Aaron Neville in the concluding chapter? What significance might this have? What role does racism play in the story of the Walkers? How does the value system of Chaney and Willetta differ from that of Vivi and Shep?

6. At the end of the novel, Sidda has a moment of insight into both her life and the lives of her family when she suddenly realizes that, "All their longing was pure." What does Sidda mean by this expression?

7. How can the acceptance of suffering help transform that suffering into love?

About the Author: Rebecca Wells, a Louisiana native, is an author, actor and playwright. Her works for the stage include Splittin' Hairs and Gloria Duplex, for which she created the lead roles. She has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Western States Book Award for her first novel, Little Altars Everywhere. She tours a one-woman show based on Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Wells lives on an island near Seattle, Washington.

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Little Altars Everywhere 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Despite the less than flattering title I gave this review, I do recommend reading it. This is not a traditional novel with a specific beginning, middle, and end, but rather a collection of stories--funny, sad, and, yes, horrific--told from the viewpoints of various family members growing up on a plantation in Louisiana in the early 1960's. The book was split in two sections, with the second half devoted to the now adult children of Vivi and Big Shep and how they turned out after leaving the fold. While Well's stories reflected a range of emotional ups and downs, I think she did a good job of capturing the realities of growing up in an abusive, alcoholic household. Every disagreement is over the top and threatens violence. Every mildly funny moment is rolling on the floor laughter. In short, every reaction is to the extreme. And kids living in the middle of it, simply accept it as a fact of life--what else can they do? I did, however, have one big problem with this book and that was in tying it to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I had read first several years ago. Divine Secrets painted Vivi, the matriarch, as complex and difficult at times, but not necessarily detestable. Little Altars, however, made her a monster--and the worst kind of a monster--the kind people just shrug off, ignore, or whose monstrous behavior simply gets buried or explained away. I have to say after reading Little Altars Everywhere, I had a lot of trouble with Well's seeming celebration of the Ya-Ya's and their notion of 'sisterhood'. Surely these women all knew the abusive bent of their leader Vivi, but like the doctors who looked the other way at Siddalee's whipping marks when they treated her for her asthma, they seemed to simply ignore it. In my book that's not sisterhood--that's just plain sick. I know movies often stray far from the storyline of the book, but after reading 'Little Altars', I'm glad I never saw Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood--because I would end up hating all these women for their collusion. Enough said--read it anyway. If nothing else, it is certainly a thought-provoking collection of childhood memories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sunnyreads More than 1 year ago
I was pleasantly surprised with this book. Having read Rebecca Wells' work before I knew I was in for a fun romp. However I was touched by the deep and unspoken scars left by the Mother's actions on each character, and was taken down a road of dysfunction, neglect, abuse and ultimately acceptance, healing and recovery. A must read for any "former child" who had a difficult road or just if one is looking for an entertaining look at the human heart and soul, in all their complex forms.
Guest More than 1 year ago
SUMMARY Little Altars Everywhere is an incredible sequel to the book The Ya Ya Sisterhood. The book starts with Sidda again, and she is telling one of her childhood memories from long ago. Each chapter begins a new story from a character¿s point of view. There is not one main topic for this book because it is a collection of the family members¿ memories. The characters that were in this book were Sidda Lee, the oldest daughter, Lulu, the middle child, Baylor, the second to oldest kid, Little Shep, the youngest child out of all of them, Shep, the father, their mother, and Willetta the maid. This book is more outrageous than the last because there is physical abuse, sexual abuse, a lesbian scene, shoplifting, and stupid things the characters said and did without even thinking. I was baffled when I finished the book because so much information is jam packed into a small novel, and someone like me can¿t comprehend everything that happened throughout the book because I guess you could say I¿m a little more naïve than the author. Rebecca Wells writes with such intensity that it was a little too much for a 13 year old to handle. I don¿t normally read about such adventurous and unusual event occurring so when I read the book I was definitely shocked in a big way. LIKES//DISLIKES Rebecca Wells, the author, had a very strong voice in each of the characters. She was very blunt and to the point when she told the characters¿ point of view. As a result, many swear words were used to match the father and mother¿s personality, and later on in the book as time went by the kids grew up and spoke in the same manner. She spoke in first person, making the characters in her story very realistic and intimidating. I would never approach anyone from the Walker family because they had, well, their issues. The vocabulary is somewhat difficult because I would come along unfamiliar words every once in a while but if I compared it to the words around it, then the word made sense. I really enjoyed the book for its challenging vocabulary because most books I read are way too easy and a challenge is a good way for me to exercise my brain. This book comes across as very unique to me because it is the only book I¿ve ever read that is split into sections of separate stories, stating the character telling the story and the time too. It made it seem like it was actual history from a real family. I could honestly say that this book was the most helpful when I wanted to analyze the reasons for the characters actions because they explain everything themselves and they give you ideas but it was not good for picturing each scene happening mainly because when a person describes something they just aren¿t going to describe what everything looked like so vividly and how it all happened. In Little Altars Everywhere the characters just speak like I would in a conversation so detail wise, it wasn¿t too helpful. BOOK RATING I really think Little Altars Everywhere earns 10 out of 10 stars. It was just so interesting, I mean really I know I say that about every book I read but none add up to this. I can guarantee you there isn¿t another book as good as this one. Rebecca Wells was given a gift and she really used it to her advantage because her books have sold like at least millions and millions of copies. She just came up with a random idea, the Ya Ya Sisterhood and built off of that. I don¿t know many people that can do that: come up with and idea and build a book series off of it. She seriously spent a lot of hard work and time to write this book and I think everyone should read it. On the recommendation part I suggest people any gender over the age of 13 unless you happen to be really mature. The conflicts are just way too confusing and mature for a little kid to understand. Most young children are shielded from the bad things in this world, and this book probably has like all of those inappropriate topics in there throughout the whole book. FINAL THOUGHTS I r
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A-READER24 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book up until the 'Snuggling' chapter, then I quit reading. I don't see the point in ruining the Vivi character, and I think it even tarnished my opinion of "Divine Secrets'. I don't see how Little Shep or even Sidda could even talk to Vivi after what she did. I don't think they would in real life.
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