Fireflies in December, by Jennifer Erin Valent

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Fireflies in December is the sweet, sharp story of Jessilyn Lassiter, who turns thirteen the summer of 1932. Shortly after her birthday, Jessilyn gains a sister when her best friend Gemma loses her parents in a tragic accident, and then nurses her first crush on a handsome young neighbor, Luke. When Gemma, who is black, comes to live with the Lassiters after the tragic accident that takes her parents’ lives, Jessilyn and her parents experience prejudice and hatred firsthand under the stifling thumb of society’s set ways in the 1930s.

Author Jennifer Erin Valent is a masterful storyteller, creating a powerful setting in the racially-charged southern Virginia town of Calloway. Fireflies in December is written in first person narrative – seen through Jessilyn’s bright, bold eyes – and is smooth and satisfying, as well as humorous and honest. In Jessilyn, readers enjoy a relatable mix of naïve youthfulness and righteous anger as she learns the hard way that hate makes men white-cloaked monsters, damaging lives and breaking apart families in its wake. The author created a fascinating cast of characters, from a questionable, keep-to-himself farm hand, to the widowed, gun-toting elderly neighbor who doesn’t see in black and white, but instead with eyes of stubborn love.

Fireflies in December was a true joy to read, an exciting story that rises high because its heart is humble and grace-filled. The banter between Jessilyn and Gemma is sassy and believable, and I enjoyed watching Jessilyn’s growing affection for Luke as he helped her family through the pitfalls of hatred-fueled prejudice. Particularly touching was the sweet affection between Jessilyn’s parents and her dad’s faith-focused wisdom to his spiritually searching daughter.

I highly recommend this powerful story, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next two books in the series, Cottonwood Whispers and Catching Moondrops.

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