One might expect, from the question posed in the title and by its subtitle ‘Book 3 of the Olivia Series’, that familiarity with Yael Politis’ other books would be a requirement to appreciate this continuation of Olivia’s saga – but, it’s not. In setting the story three generations distant from Olivia’s world, Politis succeeds in creating what is essentially a ‘tie-in’ featuring many of the protagonists and backgrounds of the prior books without an accompanying requirement that they be read in order for Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? to be appreciated.
This novel is set in relatively modern times – 1967 – so don’t expect the frontier mentality and setting of the prior books, but a whole new production fueled by Charlene Connor, descended from the Killion family, who faces many similar issues as her ancestor – albeit with a modern twist.
When a lawyer enters her confused life, bringing new writings from her long-gone great-great-great Aunt Olivia Killion, she views this as an opportunity to finally learn more about what happened to them and, in the process, gain insights about her heritage, legacy, and her own issues.
Because Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? promises prior readers a continuation of past events, it’s important to note that those who hadn’t anticipated the present-day character of Charlene, and who eagerly awaited more Olivia adventures, may find themselves disappointed, at first. (Those seeking such a continuation can always skip ahead by using a specific text string [such as ‘Detroit, Michigan – May 24, 1843’] as a search tool.)
Readers who take the time to absorb Charlene’s search and perspective will find here a wonderful dovetail with the original story line that links her discoveries of the past to her present-day life.
Now, this is not to say that Olivia doesn’t feature in anything other than journal entries: such is not the case at all. Chapters juxtapose Charlene’s life with Olivia’s and provide a satisfying sense of continuity and interlinked family heritage as they explore both of their lives. And there’s more: Charlene’s review of Olivia’s decisions and the birth of her half-black child may lead to a fiery inheritance of her own: something the too-savvy Reeves realizes before she does.
From laws revolving around segregation and the history and living legacy of Freedom Riders to prejudice which emerges when Charlene reveals facts to even her close friend Kim, Politis deftly captures the feel and sentiments of the times and immerses readers in the living legacy of Charlene’s ancestor Olivia and all their choices: “Charlene stood up. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t sell to a negro if I wanted to because no negro in his right mind would want to live here. And even if one did, no realtor would have the guts to show him a house, knowing that would be the last listing he ever got.” Her voice gained volume. “So you can stop worrying. Your street’s not going to be anything but lily white for years to come.” She turned her back on her friend and started for the door….Kim followed her down the back door steps in her nightgown. “You act like you’re so different, but you always asked your mom for nigger-in-the-box pancakes, just like the rest of us,” she said loudly, referring to what they used to call Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Charlene stopped and said, “I did a lot of stupid things when I was a kid and didn’t know any better.” Her voice had returned to its normal tone. “And then I grew up and am trying to find other ways to behave.”
Whatever Happened to Mourning Free? asks a question, and in the process of answering it, probes the underbelly of prejudice and the lasting, rippling effects of decisions made in the past and their effect on the present.
It’s what every good series title should be: a stand-alone read that smoothly connects past events with present-day decisions, and a fitting addition that both enhances the overall series and stands firmly on its own two feet. Its ability to immerse newcomers and old fans alike is exceptional.
And for a series title addition, that’s really saying something!
— D. Donovan, Senior eBook Reviewer, MBR
Link to the November issue of Midwest Book Review (Select Donovan’s Bookshelf and then scroll to the review)