Virginia Primitive

Sallie Reynolds
Outskirts Press (2014)
ISBN 9781478700791
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (01/15)

“Virginia Primitive” by Sallie Reynolds is a “semi-autobiography” about growing up in the racist South in the 1940’s.  Sally dreams of having a happy family but gets continued conflicting messages from her parents and the black woman, Lila, who raises her from birth. The story is told in alternating voices – the curious, bewildered child Sally and the 30 year old adult Sally who reunites with her beloved Lila after years of separation. 

Sally has a deep love for Lila and often dreams of being Lila’s child.  The reader is privy to Sally’s young mind as she imagines her idyllic life with Lila - aware of, but not totally comprehensive of the racial segregation and the twisted beliefs of the world during that period in American history.

It’s hard to believe that as late as the 1980s people were still living segregated in this small town.  The different sets of social standards applied to each race are clearly described throughout the book.  At one point, the story tells of a white lawyer taking advantage of his elderly black client, by forcing him to sell his land to pay for “medical bills” incurred, really just another demonstration of power.

Amidst all the struggles, the story of the bond between Sally and Lila remains dominant.  The love the two have for each other is eminently clear, even when Lila tries to hold back for the child’s sake and the reader can feel the deep sense of loss and anxiety when the two are separated for many years.  The glimpses of Sally that we get as she pieces together the past from the adult perspective evokes heart-felt, gut-wrenching emotion.

Everything about this book was captivating and realistic, including the way the author wrote with the language of the old South.  The characters are so well defined I connected with every single one of them, whether I liked them or not.

“Virginia Primitive” by Sallie Reynolds is a must-read story.  Reynolds has a way of drawing you into the story and it will linger in your heart and your mind well after you put the book down.

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