Rejected by the exclusive women’s college she has her heart set on, Tess Seibert dreads the hot, aimless summer ahead. But when a chance encounter with a snake introduces her to Jacob Lane, a black college student home on his summer break, a relationship blooms that challenges the prejudices of her small, north Florida town.
When Jacob confesses that Tess’s uncle is trying to steal his family’s land, Tess comes face to face with the hatred that simmers just below the surface of the bay and marshes she’s loved since birth. With the help of her mentor Lulu, an herbal healer, Tess pieces together clues to the mysterious disappearance of Jacob’s father twenty-two years earlier and uncovers family secrets that shatter her connection to the land she loves.
Tess and Jacob’s bond puts them both in peril, and discontent eventually erupts into violence. Tess is forced to make a decision. Can she right old wrongs and salvage their love? Or will prejudice and hatred kill any chance she and Jacob might have had?
Love and Prejudice
Oh, wow. This is a great topic. Love and prejudice have a long history in the arts, which I find interesting. From Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, South Pacific, Miss Saigon (and Madame Butterfly), and West Side Story to books like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams (and maybe even Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, to stretch the point a bit) love that crosses racial borders has inspired writers and interested readers and moviegoers. And maybe because I grew up (and still live) in the heart of the South—with all of its beauty, verve, prejudices and idiosyncrasies—the subject intrigues me as well. The concept is the ultimate in romance—an attraction so strong that the lovers are willing to risk their reputations and even their lives to pursue it. But too often, as in Summer of the Oak Moon, violence in one form or another goes hand-in-hand with the forbidden relationship.
Today, I am happy to note that interracial couples can no longer be described as Tess’s uncle does in my novel: “like hurricanes—they only happened once in a while, but when they did they sure stirred up trouble.” As a society we seem to have moved beyond the need to belittle love that crosses racial, ethnic, or even religious lines. I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone approves of these matches, especially here in the South, but rational voices seem to drown out the lingering dissent. It’s difficult these days to fathom the hatred and brutality that kept the status quo with regards to race and romance in place for so long.
When I was growing up, however, acceptance wasn’t the norm. Interracial couples were rare and were cause for comment. I was born in 1964, so I missed most of the violence of the civil rights era. If you’d asked me when I was young if my parents were prejudiced, I would have said no. They taught me to respect everyone, regardless of their race or color or beliefs—to measure a person by what they contribute to society. In retrospect, though, I think perhaps they struggled a bit with the new world brought about by the civil rights movement, which occurred when my parents were in their forties. There was a note of new-penny brightness to their words, as if the sentiments didn’t quite come naturally. But they seemed determined not to pass along the old ways to me. I will be forever grateful for that.
And of course, prior to the 1960’s, the south was notorious for its intolerance. One of the inspirations for this book arose from the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching, the 1946 murder of two black couples that occurred not far from where I now live. Interestingly enough, supposedly one of the inciting incidents for the crime—which remains unsolved to this day—was that one of the victims was thought to have been having an affair with a white woman. Again, we see prejudice, love...and violence.
I would like to say, though (lest I give the impression that Summer of the Oak Moon is a boring lesson in overcoming prejudice) that story always comes first for me as a writer and a reader. Good stories should be fascinating. Un-put-downable. Inspiring. Tess’s love for Jacob forces her to question expectations and confront her own prejudices. Their love changes her, just as great romance changes all of us, regardless of how hard won it is.
Laura Templeton lives near Athens, Georgia, with her husband, son, and a menagerie of animals. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gardening, learning to figure skate, and taking long walks on the quiet country roads near her home. Something Yellow is her debut novel, and her creative nonfiction has appeared in various publications.