"A storytelling wonder."--starred review, Kirkus Reviews
A one-of-a-kind voice lights up this witty, heartwarming debut set in 1985 Tennessee about the power of homespun wisdom (even when it's wrong), the clash between appearances and secrets, and the barriers to getting help even when it's needed most.
Lyndie B. Hawkins loves history, research, and getting to the truth no matter what. But when it comes to her family, her knowledge is full of holes. Like, what happened to her father in the Vietnam War? Where does he disappear to for days? And why exactly did they have to move in with her grandparents?
Determined to mold recalcitrant Lyndie into a nice Southern girl even if it kills her, her fusspot grandmother starts with lesson number one: Family=Loyalty=keeping quiet about family secrets. Especially when it comes to Lyndie's daddy.
Then DB, a boy from the local juvenile detention center comes to stay with Lyndie's best friend, Dawn. He's as friendly and open as a puppy. There to shape up his act, he has an optimism that's infectious. But it puts Lyndie in direct opposition to her grandmother who'd rather keep up appearances than get her son the help he needs.
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There is such a thing as honorable lying. Take the folks who lied to the authorities to protect slaves on the Underground Railroad. I’m sure if there is a St. Peter, he waved those liars right through the Pearly Gates when they finally arrived to heaven.
What people call “white lies” are a sub-category of honorable lying. They’re done out of niceness. Such as the time I told Dawn Spurlock she should definitely continue to pursue her knitting projects because she showed great potential in that area. Or, a long-ago girl writing to her soldier brother that everything is just dandy back at home, when to be honest, all the silver-plate has already been looted, and the pigs and chickens carried off to feed the troops.
Other honorable lies are the ones you tell to put a good face to the world. These lies have something to do with loyalty, which is important to us Hawkinses.
But school lies are a whole different category entirely. I learned all about school lies last year in Colonial History, when I read what our school textbook said compared to the books Mrs. Dooley helped me find in the library, and what I found out reading American History magazine, which I subscribe to. Mrs. Dooley helped me get what she called primary sources for the papers I had to write—like letters and diaries and proclamations and so forth. I finally figured out that my schoolbook was propping up some very wobbly ideas. There were all these ugly, unspoken facts swimming around the murky bottom, under the glossy surface pages of our textbook. And then I started to wonder if everybody was telling these kinds of wobbly, propping-up lies all the time, all around me.
If maybe they slid by so smoothly, I just never realized, even when I was bobbing like a cork in an ocean of falsehoods.
My grandma Lady is chock-full of opinions that tend to kink up the best-laid plans. I always knew Lady was a fusspot who drove a hard bargain, but it never really sunk in until we had to go live with her.
For example, six days after we move in with Lady and Grandpa Tad, me and Daddy are planning a road trip to Cherokee, North Carolina. We aim to go to the funeral of Daddy’s buddy Trilby Bigwitch, who fought with Daddy’s army unit in Vietnam.
Lady has one thing to say about this plan, and then she has another, and then another thing on top.
“You’re hardly even unpacked yet from moving in,” she says.
“You need to prepare for school starting Monday,” she says.
To tell the truth, I do not need to prepare for school; the whole idea of seventh grade is dreadful. I’m trying every trick I can dream up not to dwell on it. Though, she’s right—I haven’t technically unpacked any boxes. I did carry them up to the second floor. I did stack them in a corner of what is supposed to be my depressing bedroom, down the hall from Daddy’s depressing bedroom and the smaller room Ma sleeps in.
My so-called bedroom has purple floral wallpaper and a polished secretary desk with claw feet like a monster. It has a fireplace that looks like it hasn’t been lit for two hundred years. Clear as day, no child has ever inhabited that room. I don’t see why I have to be the courageous pioneer.
Lady and Tad’s farmhouse is only eight miles away from my real home, and it’s still inside the town boundaries of Love’s Forge, but it might as well be a million. It is a place that creaks if you put a toe down on any floorboard. It has wood shutters that bang in the slightest breath of wind. It has a musty parlor that attracts damp and that nobody sits in except after supper. It has a kitchen full of Tennessee knickknacks, including two framed needlepoint pictures.
The first one says: Blood makes you related. Loyalty makes you family.
The second one says: In Time of Test, Family Is Best.
Which I agree with one hundred percent. Only I would add:
A Family of Three
Was Plenty for Me.
Lady and Grandpa Tad’s house does come with an overgrown, weedy garden, which Ma could grow her gargantuan root vegetables in, if she ever has a mind to get out of bed again. But if any ponies or goats or chickens ever inhabited the barn or coop, my grandma Lady has long since run them off.
What I want most is to be back in our cottage where I was born, only us three, with the doghouse in the backyard, and the birdhouse by my window, and the playhouse in the walnut tree, all matching with white clapboard and shingle roofs. Daddy and I built all those little homes to look exactly like the sweet life-sized home we used to live in.
What I want second most, even though I am not partial to funerals, is to go on this road trip with Daddy. When you take a perfect road trip, you go somewhere you’ve never been before, and then you circle back to where you started out, and it makes you feel both adventurous and cozy.
But here we are on Friday afternoon in my grandma Lady’s kitchen, the hot air positively swimming with Lady’s opinions. She is objecting up one side and down the other to me going along to Trilby’s service with Daddy.
“It’s inappropriate, taking an eleven-year-old girl to be around all those rough men at a military funeral,” Lady says.
Inappropriate is one of Lady’s favorite words. It’s a word meant to shave the square edges off a person.
She adds, “You don’t know the first thing about raising girls to become young ladies, son.”
Daddy and Ma raised me up fine so far, I think. Without all of your opinions.
“I need Lyndie in the passenger seat to read road signs,” Daddy argues. “I’ll be concentrating on navigating the hairpin turns.”
It’s hardly even a two-hour trip to Cherokee, but Smoky Mountain roads are full of devilish curves, with sick-making drops alongside, so it pays to look sharp. Because Daddy is half-blind in his left eye thanks to a flying piece of shrapnel, and always drives over the speed limit, he needs me to copilot, and I am proud to do it. I’m standing behind his chair, and I put my chin on his shoulder and look down at the road map spread out on the kitchen table. That curvy, curly road from Love’s Forge to Cherokee, North Carolina, is a challenge I can handle.
“As a bonus,” Daddy says. “If there’s trouble, I can always count on Lyndon Baines Hawkins to fast-talk our way out of it, right Lyndie? She takes after her namesake that way.” He means old president Lyndon Johnson, who I was named for, and who was famous for his powers of persuasion.
I give Daddy a good kick under his chair. “There won’t be any trouble!”
“Tyrus Hawkins.” Lady is polishing my school loafers—she waves one at the map. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a single road through the mountains. You’d have to drive blindfolded and seated backward to get lost. You don’t need Lyndie’s help with this.”
“Point.” Daddy swivels his head around at me. “As your grandpa Tad would say: Counterpoint?”
Grandpa Tad is a lawyer; nobody can beat him in an argument. I’m thrilled he isn’t here to take Lady’s side.
“The thing is,” I blurt out, “I have to go.” Even I can hear how raw and true those words sound.
Lady looks up sharply. She sets one polished loafer on a square of frayed towel and stares first at me, then at my father. “And why would that be?”
I can’t tell Lady I only yesterday found a half-full bottle of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky in Daddy’s car’s glove box. Lady is big on personal privacy—that is, when it comes to her own privacy. She doesn’t approve of children snooping in glove boxes, or in dresser drawers, or anywhere else either, so I’m in a pickle. A kid only gets to find out important stuff “on a need to know basis,” according to my grandmother.
Lady strictly doesn’t approve of liquor. Who knows what kind of lockdown she would put us all under, if she found out Daddy was secret-keeping whiskey? I’d probably never get to take another car ride with Daddy again in my life. I have chosen to accept my mission: to keep Lady’s nose as far out of our business as I can manage and make sure Daddy gets home safe.
“The old Hawkins homestead,” I croak out, drumming up a good lie. I give Daddy another kick with my foot. “We want to stop in Greeneville on our way back, to visit where Grandpa Tad’s granddaddy grew up.”
“Right!” Daddy picks up the thread with enthusiasm. He’s improvisational like that. “Lyndie’s been pestering me about the old homestead.”
“I haven’t seen that place since I was nine,” I add. “I want to make a diagram of the eighteenth-century barn. And the many log outbuildings.”
There isn’t a drop of truth in this, but there could be, and Lady knows it. Here is the one and only thing me and my grandma share in common—an appreciation for local history. Although I will say, we do disagree hotly on many of the historical particulars.
“That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard,” Lady says. “Your grandpa’s grandfather Fayette Hawkins lived and died right here.” Lady taps her finger on the map and lifts her chin at Daddy. “And your grandpa spent many a summer there. Maybe some of Fayette’s unimpeachable character and high dignity will rub off on your daughter.”
“I believe that might happen,” Daddy says.
“I suppose if you’ll be in Cherokee, you could visit your sister in Bryson City,” she suggests. She means my aunt Palm Rae. We don’t see much of her because her husband is mayor, and “a very busy man.”
“We could look into that,” Daddy says.
“And what does Lyndie’s mother say?” Lady asks.
Lady knows Ma has no opinion how I come or go. Ma started having headaches last spring when Daddy was let go from his work. They’ve gotten worse since we moved in with Lady and Grandpa Tad. Ma has already relocated from the parents’ room into a smaller room down the hall. When she’s not at her new job at Miller’s Department Store, she stays holed up in that room chewing on Bayer aspirins.
Lady is stalling, conjuring up one last objection. A shimmer of doubt passes through her ice-blue eyes.
“Mama,” Daddy says. “We’ll be all right.”
Say yes, I pray silently. Please.
If Lady wins this battle, how will I fight her on the next?
It feels like forever before Lady sighs and her shoulders relax a notch. “I don’t like this a bit.”
“Duly noted,” Daddy says. “We appreciate your concern.”
I want to throw victory air-punches. But I am doing my best to look unimpeachable and dignified, like old Fayette Hawkins.
“You head right home after, you hear me, son? You leave tomorrow morning. I want you back before the sun sets.” Lady points to her wall calendar. “Back the same day. Saturday, September 7, 1985,” she says meaningfully to Daddy, enunciating all the numbers. “Lyndie needs to unpack her school clothes and get settled in.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Daddy barks. He offers me his pinky finger. We shake on our victory. And I feel my whole insides beginning to unfurl.
Holy Hallelujah! Me and Daddy together again in his El Camino, aka the Blue Bullet! Come tomorrow, we’ll be heading down the wide-open road to Freedom From Lady.
“Promise me,” Lady says. “You’ll get home before dark.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” I say. “We’ll be home before dark. We promise.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Gail Shepherd's debut middle grade novel, The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins, is a poignant, well-written story of an eleven-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down when her little family of three has to move in with her grandparents, Lady and Grandpa Tad. Lyndie, named for President Lyndon Baines Johnson, doesn't understand why her father lost his job and is acting weird, and why her mother has headaches all the time. Used to a more free spirited household, where her dog Hoopdee gets to sleep on her bed, she fights against the schedules her grandmother Lady imposes upon her. Lyndie's voice throughout the book is wonderfully written. You can feel the southern lilt in not just the dialog, but also in the narrative. Her voice is fresh and mature for an eleven year old whose passion is books and history. Lyndie's best friend Dawn and her new friend D.B. help give Lyndie depth and show the many facets of the growing pre-teen. This middle grade novel eloquently looks at how families are affected by PTSD - Lyndie's father is a Vietnam war veteran, and this fact colors much of his behavior in the book. Through Shepherd's skillful storytelling, Lyndie explores how lies and truth can affect the world around her, and the importance of understanding to whom to be loyal. This is a wonderful debut novel, and I look forward to more from Gail Shepherd.
In my humble opinion, THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS is a new classic. Wow. Every chapter is a little gem, effortlessly and elegantly introducing some of the biggest life questions (what does it mean to be loyal to your family—and community—while still being truthful about your shared past and present?) in Lyndie’s stupendous zippy-yet-earnest voice. The tremendous attention to detail shown in the way Shepherd then wove bits of wisdom throughout the greater narrative is simply... extraordinary. Shepherd is a masterful storyteller. I know how much I would have ADORED and benefitted from this story when I was Lyndie’s age (bonus points for its singular humor, adventuring feel, and dear Velvet), and I know I’ll want my future children to read it someday. Lyndie is one of the most lovable fireballs I’ve ever met in fiction, and her relatives and friends—her world—is so gorgeously drawn, it’s frankly difficult to believe they aren’t real people in the morning light. At least I can carry them with me in my head. The father-daughter story at the book’s core hit me the hardest, but this book is so full of love in its many iterations that I know everyone who reads it will connect on this deeper level (don’t we all have a fiercely protective Lady in our lives, albeit with a different flavor of attitude?). A must-read.
How many times in my life have I heard the phrase, "Kids are resilient?" I have said it myself, but in reading The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins, I see how hollow and insufficient those words can be. Lyndie is a character that is not unlike one of our other favorite characters in literature, Scout Finch. At 11, she is a little older than the character from To Kill a Mockingbird, but a self-awareness and strident personality shines through along with a thirst for knowledge and a straight moral compass. However, Lyndie is faced with different challenges while growing up in 1980s Tennessee. Her father has been recently laid off, and the family has been forced to sell their house and move in with Lyndie's grandparents. Her mother is mired in depression-like symptoms and her father is trying to drink away the pain of his service in the Vietnam War. Her grandmother, Lady, is caught between putting on a straight face for her granddaughter and ignoring the strife in her house, and trying to fix the two parents in pain. And there is the normal daily life of a 7th grader that Lyndie is trying to navigate. She has conflicts with her best friend, Dawn, and a new boy named DB who has moved in with Dawn's family. They all go to Convenant Academy, a place that at times is too strict for Lyndie's taste. Her life is filled with so many interests; she's a student of history, a person who cares deeply for animals and people in need. She possesses a wise voice that in some ways is wise beyond her years. At one point, I thought that Shepherd was trying to pack too much into this book. Too many characters and conflicts for Lyndie to try to manage, but that's what makes it realistic. Kids experience these trials and at times hear and see things they are not suppose to, but Lyndie is unmovable and fights back against each challenge. Shepherd has written a book that looks sharply at a family in trouble and a strong girl who finds a way to rise through the storm. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Ahhh, this book was a bit of nostalgia. I read a lot of books when I was younger in which authors looked back to life changing times in their lives and wrote of that era. Mostly it was their tweens in the 60's and 70's. This one takes me back. I turned 14 in 1985, just slightly off from this story. I remember how the US was coming to terms with how horrible Vietnam was and that maybe we should be a little more honest with ourselves about our own history. Sure, that lesson still hasn't gotten to everyone, but it is out there. Here we have Lyndie. Her entire life is changing. Not a thing staying the same. Her dad lost his job and his good friend. He is drinking more and more and he is thinking about his past. Mom has headaches and has lost her spark. She works and sleeps. They have lost their home and have to move back in with Dad's parents, controlling and proper Southern grandma and busy, avoiding grandpa. Lyndie is caring but confused. She loves history and the Civil War but she is realizing that our history may not be what we always thought it was, and neither is her own family. Everyone in her life is more and more obsessed with their own agenda so Lyndie looks for distraction with a deer she names Velvet and the new kid in town DB. Tensions get stronger and stronger and you just know you are headed for an explosion. You watch everyone running full speed at each other completely unable to stop themselves. Thank you to Gail Shepherd and the publishers for allowing me this copy to read and review. In a time when we are truly trying to understand the effects of trauma, especially on children, this is a nice addition to my library.