Ann Tatlock,
All the Way Home
(Bethany House, 2002)

Ann Tatlock brings to life two tumultuous periods in modern American history in All the Way Home.

Augie Schuler, youngest of six, is a lonely little girl living in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Her father is dead, her mother spends her days in a drunken stupor and her uncle Finn, with whom they live, is a narrow-minded tyrant and bully. Augie longs for a family where she feels wanted, and her wish comes true when she becomes best friends with Sunny Yamagata.

Not only does Augie spend most of her time with the Yamagatas, they quickly make her part of their family where she is considered their second daughter. She shares in their celebrations, their community and their culture and feels that she is Japanese deep in her heart.

Pearl Harbor changes her life drastically. Forbidden to associate with the Yamagatas, Augie defies her Uncle Finn who refuses to let her back in the house. She's happy to stay with Sunny and her family, despite growing anti-Japanese sentiment, but when the family is sent to an internment camp, Augie is alone again.

Two decades later, Augie is a journalist specializing in stories about civil rights. She travels to Carver, Mississippi, at the insistence of a woman who lives there, to write a story about the "freedom school" established to help blacks prepare to attempt to register to vote. To her surprise, she is reunited with her childhood friend as she gets swept into the tensions at play in Carver. Augie meets a host of fascinating people, white and black, and she is particularly drawn to church organist and music teacher Howard Draper even as she is repelled by his rumored membership in the Klan.

Always independent and self-contained, Augie resists opening herself up to others, of risking her heat, ever since her adopted family was ripped away. But as the situation comes to a head, Augie understands that the reward of taking a risk is worth the pain.

Tatlock evokes both time periods well, and she depicts Augie and Sunny with authenticity. As children, they behave like children, and there is a tremendous scene where the family is listening to the famous War of the Worlds and Sunny and Augie are certain that they are doomed.

The beginning develops slowly, but soon draws in the reader. While I usually dislike dialect, Tatlock uses it sparingly and well, and the spine-tingling sermon preacher Lee Henry delivers is practically worth the price of the book alone. Tatlock weaves in spiritual elements deftly and convincingly so that they support and enhance the plot rather than smother it.

Tatlock is a talented storyteller, and All the Way Home is proof of that. Packed with authentic emotional detail, it never crosses the line into being sentimental and maudlin. Readers who want a thoughtful story with a lot of heart will be delighted.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 7 December 2002

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