DOLLBABY

Laura Lane McNeal

A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets

When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South,

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A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets

When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

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  • Penguin Books
  • Paperback
  • June 2015
  • 352 Pages
  • 9780143127499

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About Laura Lane McNeal

Laura Lane McNeal grew up in New Orleans, where she lives today with her husband and two sons. She graduated from Southern Methodist University. She also has an MBA from Tulane and ran her own marketing consulting firm in New Orleans. This is her first novel.

Praise

In this tender coming-of-age novel, McNeal brings to life a place, an era, and an amazing cast of strong, larger-than-life characters. Heartrending, captivating, and ultimately, triumphant.”

—Cassandra King, New York Times bestselling author of Moonrise

McNeal’s Dollbaby is such an impressive debut—a powerful roux of family drama, long-simmering secrets and resentments, and ultimately, forgiveness and redemption. Deeply evocative, with memorable characters, Dollbaby belongs on the keeper shelf along with The Help and The Secret Life of Bees.”

—Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of Ladies’ Night

Deeply southern and evocative, Laura Lane McNeal’s beautifully written debut, Dollbaby, takes us back to a not-so-long ago time when we were learning to look through different eyes at the fabric of our society, race, youth and family.

—Susan Crandall, author of Whistling Past the Graveyard

“Don’t be surprised if you see McNeal’s book in a lot of beach totes along the Gulf Coast this summer.”—New Orleans Times Picayune

Discussion Questions

Ibby’s arrival to Fannie’s home is the catalyst for change. How does Ibby transform the household?

Ibby is warned early on not to ask Fannie about her past. Why is she given this advice?

Why does Vidrine leave Ibby with Fannie? Later, after four years, why does Vidrine suddenly come back and what does she wish to achieve from the visit?

As Ibby lives in Fannie’s house, she begins to uncover its hidden truths, both physically and emotionally. What secrets does the house hide, and what do they mean to her?

In some ways Fannie is very old-fashioned, yet in other ways she seems quite progressive for someone of her era. How would you characterize her, and why?

Dollbaby wants to participate in the civil rights protests but Queenie tries to discourage her. What is the difference between their views on the issue and why do you think they differ?

As the era unfolds, what are its political effects on Fannie’s household? How do the realities of race and class trickle down to affect the characters’ lives?

Fannie tells Ibby that she must be “willing to live the life that is waiting for you.” What does she mean by this, and how does the advice relate to both of their lives?

Through this novel McNeal seems to suggest that family is what we make it. How does Ibby’s adopted family influence the person she ultimately becomes?