Review of Mourner’s Bench by Kirkus
In her debut novel, Faye sensitively explores the turbulence of the civil rights movement in small-town Arkansas through the eyes of a young African-American girl grappling with her religious beliefs.
Sarah Jones is just 8 years old in the summer of 1964, but she’s determined to take her place among the 12-year-olds on the mourner’s bench, the seat at the front of the church where those seeking baptism go to atone and wait for a sign that they’ve been saved. Congregants at the First Baptist Church in Maeby, Arkansas, believe the sins of children belong to their parents until age 13, but Sarah is eager for baptism in order to uncouple her fate from that of her young mother, Esther Mae. After a five-year absence, Esther has returned to Maeby, hoping to inspire the community to join forces with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which is pushing for equal rights through sit-ins and freedom rides. But the African-American community in Maeby is suspicious of such sweeping change, and Sarah, raised by her grandmother Muhdea and great-grandmother Granny, wishes her mother would go back where she came from and stop kicking up turmoil. Though Faye’s plotting is sometimes rushed and short on dialogue, her first novel is an absorbing meditation on the meaning of religion in a small town as well as a keen-eyed perspective on the way one African-American community encountered the civil rights movement.
An astute coming-of-age tale set against an all-too-relevant background.