Feral, North Carolina, 1965
by June Sylvester Saraceno
A Powerful and Poignant Coming-of-Age Tale
A NOSY YOUNG GIRL IS ON A QUEST to learn her family’s hidden truths no matter who it upsets. Ten-year-old Willie Mae doesn’t just live near the town of Feral; she’s a bit feral herself. Spending her days eavesdropping, exploring on her bike, and avoiding her brutish big brother, she’s determined to uncover the secrets adults are clearly trying to keep from her. Raised in a Holy Roller family, Willie discovers bleak realities and heart-wrenching lessons that shake her to the core of her soul. A finalist for the 2018 Southern Fried Karma Novel Contest, this splendid collage will reconnect readers with stirring memories of their own adolescence.
Aside from a perfect title, June Sylvester Saraceno’s slender forest fire of a book is full of delights. What a welcome fictional triumph from one of my favorite poets. I am only sad that there aren’t a few hundred more pages!
—Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The House of Broken Angels
Feral caught my breath and shot it back to girlhood so deeply I felt my ten-year-old spine shiver. June Sylvester Saraceno has so profoundly entered the voice and body and sight of a girl from the rural south—image by image, thought by thought, sensory perceptions crescendoing into that ferocious beautiful knot made from place and being, both pushing down too hard on the body of a girl and yet pushing her toward flight. A love letter to all the girls who run in the world with their hair on fire. A heartsong to girlhood.
—Lidia Yuknavitch, bestselling author of The Book of Joan
June Sylvester Saraceno has created a character for the ages; Willie Mae Miller is curious, clear-eyed, hilarious, and a little bit feral, herself—on her trusty bike, she becomes the perfect tour guide to 1965’s North Carolina. I love this book with every bit of my heart.
—Gayle Brandeis, author of The Book of Dead Birds
Feral, North Carolina, 1965 is an impressive first novel, both as story and in its fine use of language to bring either a landscape, a face, or a room colorfully to life. “Willie,” June Sylvester Saraceno’s young narrator, introduces us to her beloved older brother Dare, parents, extended family, and a few hypocritical church ladies. Willie, a girl coming of age and struggling with gender identity, is an eavesdropper and questioner who wonders about God and church, slowly learns about dark family secrets and, finally, about the pain of race hatred sparked by school integration. Masterfully told, full of discovery and surprise, the novel is both enjoyable and rewarding.
—Peter Makuck, 2010 Pulitzer Prize nominee
About the Author
June Sylvester Saraceno comes from a family of storytellers—sea-faring folk, preachers, coffee-fueled aunties, and good-time gabbers. Her understanding of the world is an ongoing interior narrative, which she sometimes puts on the page. She worked as a waitress and bartender, collecting tips and stories, and earned an MFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University. She currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe. Her biggest accomplishment is raising a son, Dylan Victor. Feral, North Carolina, 1965 is her first novel.
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