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Book review: <i>Little Altars Everywhere</i> by Rebecca Wells

The Walker family from Thornton, Louisiana, is like any other family—full of love, life, joy, heart-ache, and dirty secrets.

The story

Meet the Walker family, a wealthy family from Thornton, Louisiana. There’s Siddalee Walker; the beautiful bookworm who’s desperate to be popular and loved. There’s Little Shep, mischief-maker. There’s Lulu, who’ll never be popular if she doesn’t stop chewing her hair and eating so much. And there’s timid little Baylor, the youngest, who loves his siblings and has a particular bond with Siddalee.

Big Shep and Vivi Walker are their parents. Big Shep farms, and Vivi tries to lead the most fabulous and glorious life she’s able in a small town, with her best friends from childhood, the Ya-Yas.

Little Altars Everywhere is a collection of stories about the lives of the Walker family, their loves, hates, complexities, and secrets. Spanning thirty years, it exposes family life in all its terror and glory, from childhood to adulthood to old age.

The style

Little Altars Everywhere is divided into two parts, part one occurring within the 1960s and part two the 1990s. Each part is divided into chapters, and each chapter is narrated by a different member of the Walker family, with two of the chapters written by Wiletta and Chaney, the silent and loyal black servants of the Walkers.

Wells does an absolutely spectacular job with this family saga. Siddalee has centre stage through the early years story telling, taking five of the ten chapters. Her character is complex, tortured, serious, and entertaining in a way that only well written little girls can be. Wells does incredibly at capturing the authenticity and voice of a very young girl, who is naive and worships her mother but also reveals through her interactions the fractured nature of the family. Wells does just as well with the other, more peripheral characters of Little Shep, Baylor, Lulu, and Big Shep, who are revealed not only through their own narrations but also through the narrations of the other characters. The real driving force within the story is Vivi, who narrates her own chapter but is best revealed by her children and Wiletta and Chaney, as a troubled, selfish, conflicted soul.

The narrations in part two are more serious, when the children are grown and realise that Vivi was the cause of many of their problems. The way the children remember their lives and heartaches, and the way they interact with both the spectre and the actuality of their mother, adds an extra layer of depth and complexity to what seem to be simple stories about a fairly unremarkable family. When the older Vivi narrates in the mix also, an extra dimension is revealed.

In case you can’t tell, I really enjoyed this book. It was beautiful, complex, and it’s all about families and real people. All of the characters are utterly three dimensional and heartbreakingly real. It’s just great.

Who is this book for?

I haven’t seen the movie that was made of the sequel to this book, Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but I would imagine that it couldn’t possibly be as good as either this book or that book, so fans of the movie should probably try and get their hands on either book. Also, this is an awesome book. It’s readable, it’s fun, it’s light but meaningful at the same time. Suitable for travel, but also anytime reading!

If you like this book, you would also like...

Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, also by this author.

In short

Title: Little Altars Everywhere
Author: Rebecca Wells
Publisher: Harper Torch
ISBN: 0060517794
Year published: 1992
Pages: 355
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: