“There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s. high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus…”

How could you not be immediately sucked into gods in Alabama after reading that opening sentence?  Especially if you are intimately familiar with small southern towns and know this to be true? That’s what got me- I felt like I was reading about places I visit every year when I visit my extended family.

Ten years ago, Arelene made a deal with God, and she’s kept her promises. Until now, God’s held up his end of the bargain.  But then a high school classmate shows up at Arlene’s door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, one of the gods of Alabama.  Now Arlene’s secret- the reason she left Possett, Alabama- might be exposed and Arlene is faced with making her first trip home in ten years. Add to that Burr, Arlene’s African-American boyfriend who has given her an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or they are through. Arlene figures this trip home is as good an occasion as any for Burr to meet her family. This trip home forces Arlene to realize the guilt she feels after an incident ten years ago. As her alibi for the past begins to fall apart, Arlene comes to understand more about family, and about how far she is willing to go for love and a sense of redemption.

Johsilyn Jackson obviously knows the nuances of small southern towns very well. Her prose made me think of sultry summer afternoons, lazing on the porch swing, sharing idle gossip with my aunts and cousins. While an appreciation of life in a small southern town certainly helps the reader identify with the story, it isn’t necessary. We all have secrets, things we prefer remain buried in our past. Most family relationships have their complications and many of us are looking for redemption from something.  Jackson’s telling of the story-alternating past deceptions with new ones interspersed with kernels of searing truth- keep the reader turning pages. I will definitely be reading more Joshilyn Jackson.