O for Ollie in With a Name Like Love, by Tess Hilmo (book review) – truth, hate, and justice in 1950s Ozarks

book cover of With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo published by Margaret Foster BooksSummertime in the 1950s south,
big revival tent pitched in a meadow outside town,
everyone welcome to sing gospel songs and listen to hopeful words,
three days here, then gone again, down the road to the next town.

But this time, Ollie knows that her singing, preaching family needs to stay a while longer, to help someone who can’t get out of a problem that he didn’t create. This hardscrabble Arkansas farming town had condemned Jimmy’s mom without a second thought. Never mind the impossibility of such a tiny woman beating up her big abusive husband and heaving him into the river…

You need to visit Binder for yourself and meet Jimmy, his wonderful collection of frogs, his gospel-singing neighbor Moody, and Mrs. Mahoney, who opened her home to the family With a Name Like Love – you’ll be so glad that you did.

Book info: With a Name Like Love / Tess Hilmo. Margaret Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011. [author’s website] [publisher site]

My Recommendation: Ollie knows in her heart that Binder, Arkansas could use her daddy’s message of love, but some folks don’t see it that way. A revival won’t change people who jailed a woman just because her abusive husband vanished, will it?

As Ollie and her younger sisters are posting flyers about the revival in town, a boy watches them from behind trees and buildings. Jimmy is not welcome in the general store, whose owner is sure that his mother murdered her abusive husband and disposed of the body without a trace. Many in town agree, so Jimmy keeps to himself up in the Ozark woods, tending to his pet frogs and helping his elderly neighbor Moody. Soon the sheriff will come take his mother to the county jail where no one will speak up for the petite woman, where no one will testify that she and Jimmy were regularly beaten by her hulking bear of a husband.

When Jimmy quietly arrives at the revival grounds, Ollie introduces him to her father, hoping that the young man’s plight will convince Rev. Love to stay in Binder longer than 3 days to help him. The reverend knows that God’s love can help Jimmy, but isn’t sure that the Love family can help Jimmy against townspeople whose minds are convinced about his mother’s guilt.

A shadowy figure slinks through their camp, a fire torches the parents’ sleeping tent, sister Gwen leads them in praying for rain, and the raindrops fall, saving their revival tent and the girls’ bunkhouse on wheels. Who is trying to make the Loves leave Binder? Are Ollie’s questions about Jimmy’s mother getting too close to the real truth?

This mystery takes readers to that dusty Arkansas summer in 1957, when Reverend Love’s message could ease listeners’ sorrows and eventually the truth might be coaxed out of hiding. (One of 5,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

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