Tess Hilmo’s debut novel is a story about the power of love to heal and transform. When Olivene Love arrives in rural Binder, Arkansas with her parents and sisters, she expects their stay to be a typical three-day revival event lead by her preacher father. What she doesn’t realize is that she needs to do a bit of saving herself. On a trip into town, Ollie discovers how deeply prejudiced the people of Binder are toward Jimmy Koppel and his mother. It just so happens that Virginia Koppel is sitting in the town jail, having confessed to the murder of her abusive husband, Henry. As soon as his mother is sent away, Jimmy will be sent to live with relatives he’s never met, and town gossip Esther Carter couldn’t be happier to get rid of the both of them. But Ollie has a feeling that something’s not right. She’s determined to get to the bottom of the truth. First she has to convince her father to extend their stay a bit. Once Reverend Love hears the story of Virginia Koppel, he agrees to stay for a few more days. Through Ollie’s clever determination and Reverend Love’s investigation, they manage to uncover the truth behind the murder of Henry Koppel. They also find a way to make a more lasting impression on Binder.
With this novel, I found a nice diversion from the vampire-and-werewolf stories of the Young Adult genre I usually indulge in. Reading this novel is like walking hand-in-hand with a friend in the country. It’s sweet and engaging, and Ollie is a likeable character. There are some small town stereotypes, but Hilmo gives us enough surprises to make the book a worthwhile read. Highly recommended.