Review: The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson

Title: The Last Road Home
Author: Danny Johnson
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Source: Free ARC from Kensington

Rating: B+

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Kensington via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Review: Because of the subject matter – an interracial relationship in the south in the early 60’s – I expected this to be an emotionally difficult read. Up to the last hundred pages, I was on pins and needles, paralyzed by pent up tension, waiting for something awful to happen. And bad things happened, don’t get me wrong. The racial tensions, the struggle of black people in the south, especially on the cusp of the civil rights movement, it was intensely palpable in this book. But, the kind of bad I was expecting never peaked. No visceral scenes of terrible violence. With the exception of one incident (where no one was physically hurt), it was more internal and external dialogue, and a view into some black and white relationships, that painted the less than palatable picture. So it was hard to read because it makes me so angry, because people were hurting, and because change was (and is, damn it!) so slow in that part of our country, but not for the reasons I expected.

The relationships in this book, the subject matter that is explored, they are wonderful aspects of the story that make it well worth reading. It offered several different perspectives on how things were back then, and I appreciate when a well-rounded approach is taken. The story was well-written, the characters were deep and fully fleshed out, and I felt everything I believe I was meant to.

As I was reading, I kept having to go back and check what time period it was taking place in because things were so backwards, I kept feeling like it must be the early 1900’s or just a tad bit past post-slavery. And every time I verified again that it was the 50’s and 60’s, it made my stomach turn.

Growing up in California, probably the most progressive state in the union, I just didn’t feel this kind of tension, and while I know I’m a generation away from the characters in this book (maybe even two generations), it’s hard for me to believe that things were that bad in this country so recently. I’m sure things were different in the west and the north at that time as well (things weren’t “good” anywhere, racially speaking), but I think we all know that, just like today, the south has been slow to come around to embracing racial equality. Knowing that and feeling it are two different things though, aren’t they? If you are an empathic person with a strong sense of fairness, I imagine these realities will tear you up inside as well.

My only complaint about the book itself is the latter part feels disjointed. I think I understand why the writer felt it was necessary to the story, but the change in environment was pretty jarring, and the ending, while probably realistic, was also a bit heartbreaking. It could have been worse, but it sure as hell could have been better as well. I was hoping for a little bit better for Junebug. I just felt sad for him.

Overall, definitely worth a read. It’s a thought-provoking book that peels back the veil just enough to remind us where we’ve been and how much work there is left to do.

Leave a Reply