On a cold December evening, Mattie Banks packs a suitcase and leaves her family home. Sixteen years old and pregnant, she has already made the mistake that will ruin her life and disgrace her widowed mother. Boarding the 2857 bus, she sits with her case on her lap, hoping that the driver will take her away from disaster. Instead, Mattie witnesses an act of bravery by a woman named Rosa Parks that changes everything. But as Mattie strives to turn her life around, the dangers that first led her to run are never far away. Forging a new life in a harsh world at constant risk of exposure, Mattie will need to fight to keep her baby safe.
Atlanta, Georgia, present day
Ashlee Turner is going home. Her relationship in ruins, her career held back by prejudice, she is returning to the family who have always been her rock. But Ashlee’s home is not the safe haven she remembers. Her beloved grandmother is dying and is determined to share her story before she leaves…
When Ashlee finds a stack of yellowing letters hidden in her nana’s closet, she can’t help the curiosity that compels her to read, and she uncovers an old secret that could wreak havoc on her already grieving family. As she tries to make sense of what she has learned, Ashlee faces a devastating choice: to protect her loved ones from the revelations, or honor her grandmother’s wishes and follow the path to the truth, no matter where it may lead.
***Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
solid, good read:
The first couple of chapters held me at arm’s length. Told in alternative POV chapters by Mattie Banks in 1955 and Ashlee Turner in present-day Atlanta, it felt clumsy and soapbox-y, making it difficult to settle into the story. It felt like it was jumping up and down, yelling in my face that I didn’t have a choice, I had to like this story because it was important.
What felt like moments after I was considering whether or not I wanted to keep reading, I realised I was already halfway through the book. What felt clumsy at first revealed itself to be sincerity and the soapbox rhetoric started to ring true. The story sank its hooks into me and refused to let go. I would finish one chapter, upset that I had to change to a different POV, desperately wanting more from the character I was reading. By the time I finished the next chapter, I felt the exact same way all over again. Back and forth, Ashlee and Mattie alternated being my favourite character and telling the better story. Even the supporting characters in each story were rich and interesting, contributing to the complexity of the world in which they lived.
What I give Harrison the most credit for is not falling prey to the most annoying cliche. She didn’t feel the need to hide things from the reader as a flimsy attempt to create suspense or intrigue. She let the story unfold and tell itself naturally, as it would in the real world, regardless of what it may be revealing about the other POV character’s narrative. I can’t stand when writers withhold information that would have obviously been revealed because it’s an easy way to make the story more exciting than it deserves to be. The characters all acted like real people, their actions didn’t exist to solely further the plot or create drama.
Considering my thoughts at the beginning of the book, I was not expecting to be as absorbed into the story as I was by the end. The emotions were so honest and the story so captivating, I didn’t have a choice. Many tears were shed in the final chapters and I can sincerely say The Girl at the Back of the Bus is well worth the read.