My Louisiana Sky by Kimberly Holt

Tiger Ann Parker. 13 years old. Tiger is what she is called in her comfortable rural hometown of Saitter, and Ann is what her Aunt Dorie Kay suggests she goes by in urban and sophisticated Baton Rouge. The book, told from Tiger’s viewpoint, begins with her explaining how she is named Tiger, which then naturally moves on to talking of her mentally-challenged parents. What struck me most about this book is Tiger’s parents. Her mother, Corrina, is a natural beauty, which Tiger was not, as ascertained by her wise grandmother who answered Tiger’s question,

“No Tiger. You’re not. But you’re smart and that’s more important.”

Her father is considered retarded by the people, but upon further reading, I personally think he is not. He’s just…different, as Granny would say. As for her mother, there is something wrong with her, which is manifested in her speech and particularly her behavior. Tiger however, is perfectly normal, and she talks about how people can’t believe she is not ‘slow’ and simple-minded as well. On the contrary, she is an A student.

In the beginning of the story, her glamorous Aunt Dorie Kay, who had left Saitter for Baton Rouge, surprises them with a TV, which disapproving Granny termed the ‘noise box’. And this story is set in the 1950s, so TV is a big deal. Tiger’s Momma takes to it like any 6 year old would, and begins to plant herself in front of it everyday from morning to night, eventually to the exasperation and aggravation of her husband, Lonnie, who also then begins to call it the ‘noise box’. From the beginning you can sense the tension between Granny and her second daughter Dorie Kay, who goes by Doreen in Baton Rouge. Dorie reminds me of the Malaysian girl from the village, who shuns her rural upbringing by striving hard in school, and thus paves her way into a world outside of the confines of her calm, sleepy village. She migrates to the city and drinks it in, at times, even more than is needed or appropriate. It also reminds me then, of Muslims from the east, who absorb the western culture that seems to have been splashed globally through the movie theaters and TV screens, to the point of being ridiculously westernized, even more than the westerners themselves.

Tiger is a tomboy, and plays baseball with the boys, with dimpled Jesse Wade as her best friend. She not only plays baseball, she hits much better than the boys that they practically beg her to play on their team. So when she decides to leave the field due to the conflicting emotions ravaging amidts her hormonal turmoil, she left a very bewildered and puzzled Jesse Wade looking on after her, begging her to come back to win the game for their team. Contributing to this inner conflict is Tiger’s antagonist, Abby Lynn, the prettiest, popular, rich girl in Saitter who is having a swimming pool built at her house, to which she would invite ‘everyone she knows’. I hate Abby Lynn. And I don’t mean that particular Abby Lynn. I mean all the Abby Lynns in the world, especially in a 13 year old’s world. Abby Lynn would be any girls’ antagonist, that’s for sure.

Tiger’s Daddy may be ‘slow’ but he is what I would deem someone with strengths in other overlooked areas. He may be slow in academics, which can be seen when Aunti Dorie Kay tried to teach him to handle bills after Granny’s sudden death, but he’s brilliant when it comes to nature. He even proves to be a contributing factor of business success, or rather, savior, of Mr. Thompson, Jesse Wade’s father.

I like Tiger, for her down-to-earth personality. Even when she yells at her Momma for the first time because of an incident at the gym, I can’t help still liking her. Everyone in town terms her parents ‘retarded’ and the kids laugh at her for this, so you can feel her frustration at having to be patient with her parents and practically watch over them while ignoring the cruel remarks and jeers thrown her way. It’s not easy. Her Momma is a free spirit, and her laughter and love are infectious. Her relationship with Tiger is that of a mother and child, except she behaves more like the child, and Tiger more like the mother. Mothering over them both is level-headed and sensible Granny. Tiger wishes her Momma is like other mommas, especially when other kids make fun of her, most of the time to Tiger’s expense, because her Momma doesn’t even understand that she’s being laughed at.

Granny says to Tiger,

“Your momma’s love is simple. It flows from her like a quick, easy river.”

I knew I love Holt’s sense of humor and voice she puts in this book when I read,

Sister Margaret sat behind her old piano, her rear end pouring over the bench.

For a first novel, Holt did very well. it is obvious she has a knack for writing, and no wonder her name sounds pretty familiar to anyone who is into Young Adult fiction.

The first half of the book lays out Tiger’s life in Saitter and her emotional conflicts over her parents’ mental acuity and being a normal 13 year old and wanting to be accepted by the popular crowd, or rather the crowd in Saitter. When she finds out that even Jesse Wade is invited to Abby Lynn’s pool party, and she is not, you could say it is the biggest emotional blow for Tiger before Granny’s death. It is also a turning point, the beginning of major life changes for Tiger. Here is when she receives her first kiss.

And this is where I began to feel that this book may not be suitable for my daughter’s reading list. The reason I read this book is as pre-reading it before using it for my daughter’s literature resource, as I already have the discussion guide printed out.  To the American, a girl’s first kiss may be something innocent that is accepted as the norm, but to us Muslims, it’s not. At least not for me. Once a child reaches puberty in Islam, two angels begin to write in her book of deeds, and from there on, she is accountable for the consequences of her actions to Allah. The boundaries that are set by Allah between man and woman then applies to this child who has just crossed the line from child to adulthood. In some aspects she may still be a child, but the parents are responsible in her upbringing, and impart the values of Islam that pertain to man-woman relationship. Crushes are normal and should be heard out, but anything physical and deeply emotional should be saved for after marriage. I have to be able to make my daughter understand this difference in culture in order for me to use this book with her, but considering her maturity level, I don’t know if I can.

Tiger is forced to make a life changing decision after her Granny’s sudden death, and this further accelerates her maturation into a mature 13 year old, perfectly summed up by Aunt Dorie Kay,

” Tiger, You’ve gone and grown up on me.”

A hurricane delivers to Tiger what she has been wishing for from her momma. The hurricane also delivers to her Daddy the recognition and acknowledgment of his atypical intelligence. Granny had said to Tiger,

“People are afraid of what’s different. That don’t mean different is bad. Just means different is different.”

Before Granny passes away, Tiger had the opportunity to spend some quality time with her, which came on quite suddenly in the story in my opinion. My first impression of Granny is that she is a cross old woman, but as the story progressed, Granny becomes more endearing, and she is the pillar around which Tiger and her ‘simple’ parents’ life revolves. Without her, Tiger’s emotional life would probably have been more unbearable. Even though Tiger can’t confide in her momma like any other teenager could, she can confide in her granny, though due to the generation gap, there are some things she will not tell granny, but which she did tell Aunt Dorie. Thank God for extended family. I am brought back to my childhood, in which my grandmother was somewhat my pillar around which my memory revolves. I remember being quite annoyed with her as I became a teenager, but I remember hanging on to her every advice. Almost every morning I could, I would take her prescription for my myopia, and venture out into the dewy orchard, find myself a banana tree, grab a leaf on which lay a lot of fresh dew, and position myself under its tip so a fresh morning dew would roll its fat self right into my eyes. Despite it not curing my myopia, it is one of my fondest memories of my childhood.

One scene I can’t take out of my mind is the snake scene, all red, black, yellow, and chopped up with a hoe. The likening of Tiger’s red hair and yellow clothes to a coral snake’s permanent wardrobe, I find quite poetic, shocking, and sent a little shudder up my spine.

There are also matters of segregation in this story, to which Tiger seems to be curious about in an innocent way. Magnolia, Aunt Dorie’s colored maid, lends to this story the historical conditions in the south in the 50s, which makes this story that much more comprehensive in terms of its societal state. Even though slavery has been long abolished, the colored and the whites are not completely living as one cohesive unit yet. So I love how Tiger and her parents treat Magnolia with respect, and I love how Magnolia asserts herself as the ‘woman in charge’. I don’t find any malice in the segregation in this story, just misunderstanding and ignorance of the whites, such as when Aunt Dorie warns Tiger not to get out at the colored quarters.

The revelation brought on by Aunt Dorie shocks me as much as it probably shocks Tiger. I kept thinking about it long after I closed this book. What a pity. No wonder the people of Saitter mention  ‘tragedy’ when talking of Granny’s life. No wonder Granny is so patient with her oldest daughter and disapproving with her younger daughter Dorie Kay, though inwardly, she is proud of Dorie Kay for being able to fend for herself; something that is passed down from herself. The revelation answers the question of Tiger’s intelligence mentioned at the beginning of the story. It was indeed a tragic incident that however gives this story a deep sense of humanity. I am not surprised it was made into a motion picture. I disagree with the casts however. One thing that was repeatedly highlighted in this book is Corrina’s dark hair and beauty, and in the movie, Corrina is not at all a beauty, rather, she looks every bit a typical ‘slow’ person, unfortunately.

The fact that I actually logged in and composed a review of this book despite my tight schedule is proof of how much this story touched me. My Louisiana Sky is a wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable read. Despite the first kiss incident, I would still probably use it as part of our reading list, because Tiger Ann Parker, in the end, is still very much herself, and more. Her big heart probably came from her momma. Ihsaan is what I would call it; how she treats Abby Lynn at the end. We can all learn Ihsaan from Tiger. It’s a story of tested and battered love that struggles and comes back full force just like nature does after a storm.


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