As is my custom, I picked up a new book and headed to bed, thinking I would read until sleep called. Better than sleeping pills, this practice almost always induces a good night’s sleep. Be forewarned – not with this book.
I’d seen periodic enticements on Kimberly Willis Holt’s Facebook page about her upcoming middle grade novel Dear Hank Williams to be released tomorrow (April 14). The title alone filled me with anticipation so I was thrilled to get an autographed advance reader’s copy in the mail. Since I'm a one-book-at-a-time reader and had a couple of must-read-now books ahead of it, it had to wait. Now the time had come, and I was eager.
The book, a series of pen pal letters from Tate P. Ellerbee of Rippling Creek in Rapides Parish, Louisiana to her idol Hank Williams, let me know right away that the effect would not be soporific. (I’ve been looking for an excuse to use that word.) I laughed out loud twice before I finished the first letter. Soon I was having arguments with myself that involved one more chapter versus the need to wake up the next morning.
The story, set in 1948 in the parish next to Vernon Parish where I lived for nineteen years, has entertaining characters that ring true to their time and place. I wondered early about Tate’s reliability as she tells Hank her story in the letters. I felt Tate’s hero worship and Mrs. Kipler’s frustration as the teacher whose pen pal project goes awry. I knew Tate’s relatives and neighbors but had called them by different names. The ending took me by surprise and made me want to go back and reread Tate’s letters with the truth in mind.
In the author’s note, Kimberly says a trip back to her grandfather’s house when she thought she’d lost her love for writing brought her to this book. I’m glad she went. You will be, too, and so will any middle grade school girl for whom you buy the book. Just don’t expect it to help you sleep.