A murky Louisiana bayou conceals a murderer consumed by wicked desires. Like a half-submerged gator, he waits patiently for his unsuspecting prey. Twelve-year-old Sally Flowers is too distracted by her thoughts to notice the presence of evil. What the bayou saw that day will change the course of people’s lives and rise up again in Sally nearly three decades later, when choosing the right path for the future means facing a head-on encounter with her past.
On any other day, young Sally might have noticed the silence of the bayou creatures or felt the foreboding shiver of a malevolent wind. But at that particular moment, her mind zeroed in on a solitary goal: deliver a warning message to her best friend in hopes of saving someone falsely accused. The warning, however, had to be delivered in secret, for the year was 1963 and Sally was a white girl whose best friend, Ella, was black. As she waited in their secret meeting place amidst the mangroves, Sally knelt in prayer.
“Sally jerked up her head. Rubbed prickly arms. What had quieted the swamp creatures? Were they praying, in their own silent way? The water was a sheet of glass, the trees motionless.
A limb cracked.
“There you are.” It was a man’s voice. Then a cackle.
Sally tripped and fell, then crawled, her elbows, her fists, sinking into mud and rotting leaves. He’d found her. She choked down grit and spit. I’ve got to get out of here!”
But Sally didn’t get out. And veiled in the shadows of the bayou, a rape, a murder and a blood oath mark a turning point in Sally and Ella’s history. As a result, an innocent teenager faces 20 years in prison, friends are separated and a horrible secret festers and burns inside Sally for decades to come.
Jump ahead 30 years. Sally is a college professor, determined to help her students embrace the creativity of world cultures. Her only black student is a girl named Shamika, who is bright, beautiful, inquisitive and creative. Her greatest challenge is a trio of skinheads, arms decorated with swastikas and faces adorned with sneers. When Shamika is raped and beaten, and Sally’s house is the target of a hate crime, all fingers point to the three white supremacists. But Sally’s gut tells her Shamika is hiding something, much like Sally herself. As she tutors the recovering girl at home, Sally’s secret crawls from the darkness of its hiding place and grabs hold of her heart. It has affected her decisions, her marriage, her very faith. But now the Holy Spirit is whispering in her ear and the time has come to listen.
Anger, tears, compassion and faith flow from the pages of this book straight to the reader’s heart. Who couldn’t be touched by two little girls aching to be friends in a world where black and white are divided as clearly as the chain link fence that separates them? Author Patti Lacy does not shy away from the ugliness of racism, the gut-wrenching aftermath of rape, or the damage caused by secrets kept hidden in the cracks of a broken heart.
WHAT THE BAYOU SAW will hold you captive in its pages, even when you are separated from the book itself. The author’s ability to create multifaceted characters, three-dimensional imagery and an intriguing story is as apparent in this novel as in her first, AN IRISHWOMAN’S TALE. I highly recommend both.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on November 13, 2011