A review of Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

Reviewed by Sara Hodon

by Jessica Maria Tuccelli
Viking Adult
Hardcover: 336 pages, March 2012, ISBN-13: 978-0670023318

The past is a funny thing. Sometimes the more you try to keep it hidden, the harder it tries to emerge. The past—that of a family, a place, and a time in history—figures prominently in Jessica Maria Tuccelli’s debut novel, Glow.

Set in the Appalachian Mountains and tracing a family’s history from the mid-1830’s to the tumultuous events of World War II, Glow. is the story of Amelia J. McGee, an outspoken pamphleteer for the NAACP who sends her daughter, Ella, on a bus by herself as a precautionary measure. But trouble finds Ella all the same, when she is left for dead on the side of the road by two drifters. Ella is taken in by a former slave, Willie Mae Cotton, and her partner Mary Mary Freeborn. Together, the women’s blend of folk remedies and no-nonsense TLC helps Ella recover. Along the way, Ella learns more than she’d likely bargained for about her family’s history and the women’s roles in it.

Before writing the novel, Tuccelli, an anthropologist, immersed herself in research. She spent three summers visiting the Appalachian region and learning more about its culture and people. That research is evident in the novel—she perfectly captures the dialect and cultural beliefs of the area. Perhaps too perfectly. The voices of each character seem to overshadow the actual story. I found the plot difficult to follow. It seemed as though there was more focus on the characters’ backstory and perhaps not enough on the main plot. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, which I also found difficult to follow. Their voices didn’t seem quite distinctive enough. I didn’t have trouble with Ella’s chapters as much as some of the others, but this was mainly because she spoke often of her dog, Brando.

Tuccelli did not take the easy way out with writing this novel. Crafting such a complicated storyline is difficult enough; allowing the characters to tell their story in their native dialect is even riskier. Glow is unlike any novel I’ve ever read before, and it offers an intense view of an often-overlooked area of the United States during a very tumultuous time period.

About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the “Date and Relate” columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com