Book Recommendation – Under the Magnolias by T. I. Lowe

Book Description:

This night not only marked the end to the drought, but also the end to the long-held secret we’d kept hidden under the magnolias.

Magnolia, South Carolina, 1980

Austin Foster is barely a teenager when her mama dies giving birth to twins, leaving her to pick up the pieces while holding her six siblings together and doing her best to stop her daddy from retreating into his personal darkness.

Scratching out a living on the family’s tobacco farm is as tough as it gets. When a few random acts of kindness help to ease the Fosters’ hardships, Austin finds herself relying upon some of Magnolia’s most colorful citizens for friendship and more. But it’s next to impossible to hide the truth about the goings-on at Nolia Farms, and Austin’s desperate attempts to save face all but break her.

Just when it seems she might have something more waiting for her—with the son of a wealthy local family who she’s crushed on for years—her father makes a choice that will crack wide-open the family’s secrets and lead to a public reckoning. There are consequences for loving a boy like Vance Cumberland, but there is also freedom in the truth.

T. I. Lowe’s gritty yet tender and uplifting tale reminds us that a great story can break your heart . . . then heal it in the best possible way.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

Powerful. Raw. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. I loved reading Under the Magnolias by T. I. Lowe and journeying with Austin Foster and her family in 1980’s small town Magnolia, South Carolina, USA. I read Under the Magnolias within twenty-four hours because I couldn’t put it down. I’m writing my book recommendation twenty-four hours after I finished reading because I needed time to ponder and digest the story before writing my thoughts.

Austin is almost thirteen when her loving and carefree mother passes away while birthing twin boys. The family tragedy thrusts Austin into an exhausting world of family responsibilities with six siblings, including two sets of twins, plus school work and chores on the farm. Her father inherited the family tobacco farm, and he also pastors a diverse congregation, known as the ‘riffraff’, at the chapel on his farm. He’s a brilliant man and passionate preacher who’s also struggling with grief and escalating mental health issues.

The story is written in first person from Austin’s point of view, and we experience the highs and lows of family life during her adolescent years from Austin’s witty and candid perspective. Austin is a strong and smart girl who’s loyal to her family and makes enormous sacrifices for those she loves. I admired her strength and determination to overcome problems in extraordinary and difficult circumstances. She maintained her faith despite the hardships and never-ending struggles in her daily life.

The delightful and eccentric cast of family members and misfit characters who attend the Sunday church services, and who each have deep scars from their challenging life experiences, form a close knit community. In their own unique ways they all reveal their love for Jesus and each other via actions that speak way louder than any words.

I highly recommend Under the Magnolias to readers looking for a beautiful and bittersweet coming of age story with strong faith and romantic elements that also tackles hard issues, including mental illness.

I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher. Many thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley.

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