Sweet Magnolia, our third Essence Book Club pick, features two sisters who share one big, disturbing secret
Norma L. Jarrett has some nerve. In a climate where many authors are churning out X-rated tales of suburban sinners and urban orgies, this Houston author writes decidely tasteful titles. Still, her characters are far from boring. Take the Ledoux girls who anchor Sweet Magnolia (Harlem Moon, $12.95), the storyteller’s new novel. From the outside, they seem to have it all. They’re the pride of Magnolia Lane, the pre-Katrina Big Easy block their upper-crust family and neighbors call home. Summer, 29, has just married Evan, a spiritually grounded brother. Misa, her stunning older sibling, is a famous jet-setting model. But we quickly learn both of their smiles are masking deep emotional wounds.
With a calm, assured voice, Jarrett, 40, has crafted a memorable narrative of redemption and reconciliation that is certain to please fans of Sunday Brunch, her 1999 self-published debut novel. And like many authors, the soft-spoken Jarrett writes what she knows. Her latest novel began two years ago as snatches of journal entries penned while she was searching for a way to understand her own mother, Ethel, who had died of a stroke in 1988. The author learned after her mother’s death that the woman who had raised her and her siblings had harbored a secret. “I grew up in a loving family,” says Jarrett, who graduated in 1999 from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. “But while I was touring for my first novel, I got to know family members I’d never met, and I connected with my mother’s unexplored past. I learned that her mother had died during childbirth. The guilt followed my mother for years. Writing Magnolia helped me know her more deeply.”
By the time she finished writing the novel earlier this year, she’d worked out her feelings about the part of her mother that she never knew. Currently an active member of Pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, Jarrett says faith played a key role in her healing, so it’s no surprise that spirituality is a major presence in Magnolia, just as it was in Brunch. “Telling a good story is important to me,” says the author, who works at a university in Houston when she isn’t writing. “But the people in my novels are not going to do a bunch of cursing. I like to find creative ways to write about intimacy without being explicit. I love the idea of romance in relationships.” Jarrett also abides by a no-male-bashing rule: “Yes, I want Black men to take responsibility for their actions, but I also want the men in my stories to come across as human.”
For that, and many other reasons, readers craving juicy plotlines driven by decent and compelling characters will always find a kindred spirit in Jarrett.
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Photo Credit: Stephen Karlisch
Author Norma L. Jarrett says Sweet Magnolia, her new novel, helped her get over her own pain.