The bayou is a dark and frightening place. A little girl named Lee, living in Mississippi in 1933, discovers that firsthand when she dives into its murky depths to recover the body of a friend. Underwater, she finds the body, but she sees something more, a person…or maybe an evil spirit. It’s hard to tell, and she has no interest in finding out. There’s plenty of evil for her to deal with in the real world already.
Lee lives with her father, a sharecropper, on the Westmoreland estate. The body Lee has found at the bottom of the bayou belonged to a young black man who dared to whistle at a white woman. Lee knows as well as anyone the cold, stark reality of the world she lives in, even if she questions it persistently. When she asks her father why he doesn’t fight back against the horrible brutality of the white townspeople, he explains his understanding of not only his time but of times to come. The time to fight back hasn’t dawned yet. But it will. And he needs Lee strong enough to make it to that fight.
Bayou began as a webcomic under DC’s Zuma imprint and is now being published in paperback form, hopefully where it will reach an even wider audience. Deserving of all the praise and awards its received, Jeremy Love’s magical story is a pitch-perfect tale of hope amid oppression. With a nod toAlice in Wonderland and To Kill a Mockingbird both, Bayou takes Lee down the rabbit hole into a world that might be more dangerous than the one she comes from, and into a battle that she has no idea she’s joined.
She gets drawn into it when her young friend, the daughter of the owner of the estate Lee lives on, goes missing in the bayou. Lee knows exactly what happened, exactly which monster swallowed her whole. But the white people in town are only interested in accusing Lee’s father, convicting him without a trial and demanding blood. To save her father and prove his innocence, Lee will have to go into the bayou herself.
Bayou is beautifully crafted. Love’s ear for dialogue is wondrous to read; his sense of historical perspective deft and subtle. As the story unfolds, we meet more and more of Lee’s extended family (her late mother is alluded to only briefly), and each one is a delightfully fully fleshed out character.
Bayou is mesmerizing from start to finish.
Reviewed by John Hogan on June 2, 2009