There is nothing better than curling up next to a crackling fire, hot tea in hand and a book that grips from the very beginning. Throw in a comfy blanket and a warm cuddly puppy, and I’m in hibernation until reading the last page. With the recent onslaught of snow and ice, we’ve got you covered with amazing southern fiction to keep you busy no matter what the weather outside!
My first love affair with southern fiction began with the movie ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ starring Kathy Bates. It wasn’t until after I watched the movie that I realized it was based on a book. This was before Google became a household staple. I had to read the book after that, and it did not disappoint, not one bit! Since that time, (could it have really been so long ago?) I’ve been on the lookout for the best southern fiction novels to add to my ever-growing list. Here’s just a taste of what I’ve come up with!
Southern Fiction to Warm Your Heart
1. The quintessential southern novel, The Secret Life of Bees follows young Lily Owens across South Carolina during 1964. Seeking redemption, salvation, and answers to her mother’s death, Lily finds the secret to life in bees and the black Madonna when she lands on the Boatwright sisters’ doorstep. An excellent read for book clubs, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends. Pair it with cat-head biscuits, local honey and a big glass of sweet tea.
2. Made into a blockbuster movie starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer, The Help is even so much better when you read the book. With laugh-out-loud scenes interspersed between pages that will have you crying a river, The Help is a beautiful book about resilience, the power of female friendships, the lines we cross and those we don’t. Pair with chocolate pie and a tall glass of milk. Just be careful who made the pie!
3. If whimsy is more your cup of tea then try The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Told from the perspective of two outsiders – that of sixteen-year-old Emily and 30-something Julia, this novel is infused with magic and cake. Lots of cake. Pair with a slice of Hummingbird Cake and a steaming cup of coffee.
Southern Fiction Paired with Southern Flavor
4. Have you ever lived in a place with only one traffic light and the only restaurant is Dairy Queen? This is the kind of town Catherine Grace of Ringgold, Georgia is trying to escape. And does. Until tragedy strikes while on her way to Atlanta, and she’s forced to return home. Everything Catherine Grace thought she knew is turned on its head in Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen. If you’v ever wanted to escape your life, sometimes it takes returning home to find it. Pair with a Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen.
5. Another southern fiction Georgia gem (and my personal Joshilyn Jackson favorite), Between, Georgia takes us into the life of Nonny Frett. Nonny has two mothers, “one deaf-blind and the other four baby steps from flat crazy.” Family secrets and relationship woes abound in this sweet book. I promise if you read this one and don’t feel better about your own family then we need to talk – and you should be writing a book! Pair with boiled peanuts and a Coke.
6. Fannie Flagg is an amazing storyteller. She can weave magic out of a few sentences and create the most believable characters. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the story of Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode during the 1980’s and Idgie and Ruth from the 1930’s. Evelyn is an empty nester volunteering at the local nursing home. There she meets Mrs. Threadgoode who over the course of several visits, shares her life story with Evelyn. We learn about Idgie and Ruth and how they came to run the Whistlestop Cafe in segregated 1930’s Alabama. For this, you’ll want some good ‘ole southern barbecue and a mason jar full of iced sweet tea.
7. As children, our perception of events is skewed by the little life knowledge we have come to understand. This tends to carry over into adulthood leaving relationships fraught with landmines. In the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Siddalee Walker cannot move forward with her life until she understands, and believes, that she will not turn out like her crazy mother. It takes an intervention of the Ya-Yas (her mother’s lifelong friends and Siddalee’s surrogate moms) to learn that all was not as she remembers and that forgiveness heals. Pair with Shrimp Gumbo and your favorite ice cold beverage.
8. A story of miracles and learning our place in the world, no matter if you’re 11 or 35 or 58. Swan is a preacher’s kid filled with spunk and a resolute sense of right and wrong. Set in Arkansas during the dog days of summer The Homecoming of Samuel Lake is heartwarming, tragic and life-affirming. Pair with a macaroni and ham casserole and you guessed it – sweet tea! Top it off with a slice of your Grandma’s best 3-layer chocolate cake.
What’s your favorite contemporary southern fiction novel?
This list only gives you a taste of the remarkable southern fiction titles readily available at your library or favorite independent bookstore. Southern storytellers have a way of tackling timeless issues with humor that sends the message home without preaching. It addresses racial divides head on without beating you over the head. Finally, southern fiction makes you feel like no matter what you’ve been through or where you’ve been, there’s bound to be a novel out there to let you know you’re not alone.