I remember standing in front of the shelves at Barnes and Noble, my eyes darting across the spine of each book, looking for the perfect read for my cluttered and altogether cloudy mood. It was then that I settled on Valentine. Its cover reflected very clearly the climate in my head, and the subject matter was, unfortunately, quite apropos. So I slapped my copy down on the counter and said “Ring me up!”
Not true, I didn’t do that at all. But I did stand in the aisle at B&N for so long that my tirelessly patient husband began tapping his toes, so I grabbed this book up because it caught my eye and the premise resonated. And I am so glad I did.
Setting aside how good this book is for a moment, just reading it and enjoying it brought me to two other books that I absolutely loved, Dear Edward and Shadows of Pecan Hollow. I replied to a tweet from a publisher asking what book their followers had most recently loved with Valentine as my answer, and their social media rep recommended Dear Edward, which took me on a journey I was not emotionally prepared for. And, when I saw a review for Shadows of Pecan Hollow comparing it to Where the Crawdads Sing and Valentine, I knew I had to read it, too, and of course loved it.
So Valentine has pretty much been a force multiplier for great books in my life, and for that I am eternally grateful. But the plot alone of this book is enough to make it an outlier among the many mediocre and forgettable books I read throughout 2021. The story tells of Gloria, or Glory, who is viciously and brutally raped in the oil fields of West Texas in the 1970s and shows up at Mary Rose’s house bruised and battered, looking for shelter. The rest of the story mostly focuses on Mary Rose’s life as she witnesses firsthand the atrocious denials townsfolk would go through to convince themselves that a “good” white boy couldn’t rape a Latina girl.
Like many of my favorites, Valentine is character-driven, and there are so many good characters in this book. The story itself evokes a grittiness unmatched by most of the books I’ve read, and I was apparently thirsting for it, as I drank it in as though I were experiencing a drought. Something about the setting of West Texas, Odessa in particular, really spoke to me. Perhaps it’s because I was born, raised, and live in Central Arkansas, but reading Valentine felt a lot like coming home.
Dates read: April 18-25, 2021