Book Review: Missing Isaac

17 Jan

There was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete — and the people he loves most — will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.


Valerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others. As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.


My Impressions:

This review is going to be difficult to write. Although Missing Isaac, the debut novel of Valerie Fraser Luesse, is a book that has it all — relatable and complex characters, a story that grabs your heart, and a voice speaks to the soul — it is difficult to get past the emotions that it elicited and name specifics as to why you should read it. And read it, you must! This book will win awards, I guarantee. And it most definitely will be on my best of the best list for 2018, if not of all time. It gets the very rare Very Highly Recommended distinction from me.

The time is the 1960s and the place is rural Alabama. It is a simple time for 11 year-old Pete who adores his father and has not a care in the world. But things can change in an instant, and Pete is swept up into a world of loss and grief. His anchor in the storm is an unlikely friend — a 30-something black man who has worked most of his life as a field hand for Pete’s family. They form an easy bond, but in another life-changing moment, Isaac disappears, leaving Pete unsettled and determined to find our what has happened to Isaac Reynolds.

Luesse has a beautiful writing style. The language of the different classes and races shines through in her flowing narrative and dialogue. The characters, quirky and oh so Southern, are real. I found myself quickly immersed in the story. And though Missing Isaac is a novel to be savored, it was a surprisingly quick read. I just could not put it down, and the many distractions around me faded the minute I stepped into the world of Glory, Alabama. There’s a lot going on in Glory, the nuances and undercurrents of which Pete is innocent. His encounter with a girl from the Hollow expands his experiences with life and love beyond his safe home. You see, there are all kinds of worlds out there that we have no knowledge of. As Dovey puts it — “Pete, what’s throwin’ you off is that you think there’s just one world we all live in, but there’s not. There’s a bunch of ’em. There’s the world you come from and the world I come from and the world Isaac comes from — there’s all kinda worlds. And the only people that don’t seem to know that are the ones that come from yours.” What I especially liked about this book is that Luesse merged those worlds, those different classes of people that made their home in Glory, in a beautiful way.

Missing Isaac is a poignant look at a time gone by that is not so distant from our own time, a time that hasn’t changed enough. But while it handles some heavy issues, there is a lightness and a wit about it that keeps the darkness at bay. There are some really funny moments in the midst of fear and grief and discouragement — a picture of real life. Missing Isaac has a wonderful foundation of faith as well. It is as natural and living as the fields that surround the small farming community.

I hope my ramblings will get you interested enough to pick this one up. Missing Isaac is my book club’s February selection. I cannot wait for my friends to read it!

Very Highly Recommended.

Great for Book Clubs.

Audience: young adults through adults.

To purchase, click HERE.

(Thanks to Revell for a complimentary copy. All opinion expressed are mine alone.)


6 Responses to “Book Review: Missing Isaac”

  1. bellesmoma16 January 18, 2018 at 12:17 am #

    Great review! I will have to check this book out. 😊

    • rbclibrary January 18, 2018 at 7:11 am #

      Hope you love it too!

  2. Sue January 18, 2018 at 12:16 pm #

    I enjoyed MISSING ISAAC also, but think you did a much better job of capturing how to describe the author’s talent and her intent in writing this book than I did in my review. I would say that Pete and I went through the teen years at about the same time, but his whole world was so different than the world I experienced in Wisconsin. That really had me thinking throughout the read. Perhaps the most perplexing part of the story for me was Dovey’s family, that people lived so isolated, yet so near others, and that Dovey was never enrolled in school. The other thing that really disturbed me was Dovey and Pete’s marriage immediately after his graduation. Yes, I had a few classmates that wed before they were twenty, but I really think by the late 60’s that was not a frequent part of our culture.

    • rbclibrary January 18, 2018 at 8:26 pm #

      Rhanks for your thoughts Sue. There were things that seemed a bit foreign. It certainly was not how I grew up in Orlando!


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