08 Feb The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain
A haunting story set during the civil rights movement in 1960s USA
I love a Diane Chamberlain story. She takes serious issues and fashions them into gripping and entertaining stories that are always thought-provoking but never preachy.
The Last House on the Street is no exception, delving as it does into the civil rights movemement in 1960s’ USA, when black people began to make their voices heard, despite very real danger from groups such as the Ku Klax Klan.
The story begins in the near present, in 2010. Architect Kayla is about to move into the house designed by her and her husband, where her husband tragically died in an accident as it was being built. Her ambivalent feelings about her new home are heightened by a sinister warning from a strange old woman, the eerie atmosphere of the woods surrounding it, and the hints that other past tragedies continue to haunt the place.
The story switches from the present to the past, to 1965, when young Ellie Hockley defied her family, friends and white community to take part in the civil rights movement, living and working with black people to help them recognise their right to vote.
In both past and present narrative, events escalate as they come together, to reveal the truth of how what happened in the past continues to influence the present.
This was such a good story. The plotting was impeccable, with tension rising slowly through both timelines. The emotive theme of black people struggling to make their voice heard in 1960s USA is handled with great sensitivity – nothing is over-dramatised, no-one is pigeon-holed. No one character is black or white on the inside – but some are trying to be better than others, to atone for past wrongs or to ensure a better life for their community.
The theme may be issue-led, but at its heart this is a story about people, about love and loss and the need for atonement, justice, and, in the end, some form of forgiveness.
Atmospheric, haunting and heartbreaking, this is a story everyone should read.
The Last House on the Street by Diane Chamberlain, published by Headline, is available as a hardback or ebook
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