Saturday, September 20, 2014


Every community has characteristics that mark its identity and, by extension, the people who inhabit it.  Clinging to traditions and resisting change are indicative of a staunchness of principle, an abhorrence of the encroachment of modernity, a comfort in maintaining what has worked for generations in the past.

John Warley has written a wonderfully engaging novel about knocking on the doors of tradition to open them wide to the fresh air of progress.  In his new book "A Southern Girl," he exposes the narrow mindedness that can paralyze and stultify modes of thinking, where the idea of change is frighteningly avoided, setting his tale in the Southern bastion of Charleston.

His story is partly autobiographical.  He and his wife and two sons opened their home and hearts to adopt a baby daughter Mary Beth.  How similar or unlike MaryBeth is from Allison in his fictional tale can only be determined by the author himself.  With an eloquence for words, the reader is swept into the journey of Coleman and Elizabeth Carter and how one tiny infant from South Korea changed their lives irrevocably.  The attorney in Coleman initially resisted his liberal wife Elizabeth's proposal to bring a "foreigner" into their midst..  If Coleman was resistant, his parents were apoplexic.  As noble and honored Southerners, adopting "an unknown entity" was unthinkable.

But Elizabeth's wishes prevailed and the Carter family adjusted in a hundred different ways as the sweet new one captured their hearts.  "A Southern Girl" carries the reader through a magnolia strewn path of changes as Allie, an avid horse lover, grows into her own person. Along the way we meet fascinating people like Hana, Jong Sim, Mr. Quan and Natalie.

The early death of Elizabeth, as well as the passing of Coleman's father and the much earlier death of Coleman's good friend Philip, bring turning points to the family.  It is only when Allie, considered a outsider by Southern standards, is snubbed by the elite coming-out ball held by the St. Simeon Society, that Coleman faces the prejudices that the genteel community clings to so fiercely, like the creeping vine kudzu that chokes whatever it comes in contact with.

How Coleman rises to the occasion, to fight for his daughter's rightful place of honor, is at the compelling center of "A Southern Girl."  With lawyer-like skills and a determination his late wife Elizabeth's would applaud, Coleman questions the establishment, protecting his own child at great personal cost.

Let John Warley, who left his own legal career for several years and took his family to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to write this inspiring novel, sweep you along on Coleman Carter's journey as a man, husband, parent, friend and warrior.

Publisher:  The University of South Carolina Press

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