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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Virtuous Ruby by Piper Huguley

A Virtuous Ruby is a book that has a striking cover and an equally striking story. When I started to read this book, I couldn't put it down. It covers so many things  - love, betrayal, shame, pride, strength, acceptance, and forgiveness. The characters feel organic, beautifully fleshed out and formed from their life's circumstances such as race and skin color, environment, and social standing. As I read A Virtuous Ruby, I found myself holding my breath on some scenes and pondering how I would have personally reacted or behaved in others.

The story takes place in 1915 Georgia, in a town named Winslow. The town is named after the white owner of the mill where many of the African-American residents work. The mill doesn't pay well and generally has poor working conditions. Because this is 1915 Georgia, the good people of Winslow aren't about to rock the boat. With the exception of Ruby that is.

Ruby is an 18 year old girl, who's been living in shame, fear, and self-imposed excile since the birth of her illegitimate son Solomon. Ruby is outspoken and wants to make life better for her people, while creating a better future for her son. The Winslows have done much to keep her quiet, but she's determined and won't let them further intimidate her or stop her from her goal. An accident at the Mill heralds the arrival of Dr. Adam Morson. Adam is a mixed race doctor new to town who immediately rubs Ruby the wrong way. Although she finds the doctor outrageously attractive, she can't determine whether he'll help or hinder her fight.

What I Liked
There is a lot of character growth in this story. Ruby is the finest example of that. She starts off as headstrong, not willing to heed the warnings of those around her and refusing to see the danger that her actions created for her family and the African-American residents in town. I wanted to shake and applaud her at the same time. The girl was brave, she took risks, but she was reckless. I can't fully blame her for that recklessness, because if people in history hadn't been a bit reckless and hadn't taken risks that could have resulted in injury or even death, then where would we be now? Nothing would have ever changed. Ultimately, I grew to admire Ruby, particularly as she matured.
In her own way, Ruby comes from a priviledged background. Her family has a very prosperous farm and a home that's bright and cheery. She is very light skinned and at first I was worried about this. It (her skin color) is mentioned so many times in the opening pages that it was a bit off putting. After reading the book I now understand that the color of her skin plays such an important part in who this character is and the story itself. The difference in her skin color made her feel as if she stood out or was different as she was growing up. During her early youth it even made her believe that things could be different for her. It is an important layer to a character that has so many interesting layers. I loved this character and the way that she was written.
Adam is another character who grew quite a bit. He is a man who could easily "pass" for white to get his education at the finest colleges, and he did just that. I liked that he didn't attempt to lie about who he was, he just let people assume. He has to re-adjust to being a black man in the racist south again and must face Ruby's feelings about the way that he got his education, and her criticism that he isn't doing enough in terms of activism. The way he comes to see the other black characters, their struggles, and their sense of community are all a part of the growth that this character displays.
There are many other things that I liked about this book, but to go into them all would a.) make this already lengthy review too long, and b.) give away too much of the story. I'll just say that there are plenty of complex relationships at play, and a majority of them are fabulously crafted. The romance is sweet, and although there is attraction, the love is not insta-love and that alone is worth a solid star from me.

What I Didn't Like
I wish there had been more moments of romantic tension/steam between Ruby and Adam. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that sex wasn't the focal point in the story (in fact there wasn't any sex), but I do wish there had been more tension or longing between the two. The Reverend falls into this category of what I don't particularly care for about this book.  He seemed too over-the-top for me and I don't think he really gets what he deserves.

My Final Thoughts
I know there are some people who won't give this book a try based on it being a historical romance during a time of much struggle for African-Americans. That's unfortunate because this is a beautifully written story. Piper Huguley has a gift in that she can transport her readers so that they can see and feel what the characters do. In other words, the writing is so vivid readers will feel as if they are right in the story. Although I wish there had been more romantic tension between the two main characters, A Virtuous Ruby still had a satisfying love story that developed naturally. This book, however, was more than just a romance for me. It got me thinking and it made me feel strongly. I highly recommend A Virtuous Ruby.

Rating: 4 stars
Published: July 14, 2015
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