Megan Church's stirring debut, The Last Carolina Girl, follows the newly orphaned 14-year-old Leah Payne, highlighting the true meaning of family in this Carolina-set coming-of-age novel. The warmth and comfort of Leah's life with her father in 1935 coastal Brunswick County, N.C., is suddenly ripped away to reveal the heartbreakingly raw reality of grief experienced at a young age. Leah is taken to stay with a respectable family and situated as their new helpmate since her father's tragic accident left her with no direct family members. Shocked by her sudden loss of freedom and the only home she's ever known, Leah is determined to please her new family, only to uncover hidden secrets and agendas. Stuck in this new, uneasy existence, Leah confesses, "I hoped sleep could rescue me from this unwanted reality, suspend me in a place where someone wanted me for more than service."
Mrs. Griffin, Leah's new caretaker, seems prejudiced against her from the moment she arrives. Through Leah's empathy-evoking display of raw vulnerability and adolescent emotions, Church exposes the desperation of a child to fit in and find a new home for herself. Leah's life is further complicated when Mrs. Griffin learns of the scientific ideology of eugenics, and sees it as yet another way to control and contort her own reality. An affecting and excellent depiction of family corruption and lies, The Last Carolina Girl challenges Leah to remember who she is, where she came from, and get where she wants to go--back home. --Clara Newton, freelance reviewer