Synopses & Reviews
An engrossing novel inspired by a true event about unresolved family history and racial tensions that threaten a Florida community.
With American Ghost, Janis Owens offers an evocative southern novel continuing in the tradition originally established by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and brought into the new millennium by writers like Karen Russell and Kathryn Stockett. Inspired by Owens’s extensive research on a real lynching that occurred in the 1930s, American Ghost is a richly woven exploration of how the events of our past can haunt our present.
Jolie Hoyt is the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher living in small-town Florida. Disregarding her family’s closet full of secrets and distrust of outsiders, she throws caution to the wind when she falls in love with Sam Lense, a Jewish anthropology student from Miami in town to study the region. But their affair ends abruptly when Sam is discovered to have pried too deeply into the town’s dark racial past and he becomes the latest victim of violence. Years later, Sam and Jolie are brought together again, and as they resolve the mistakes of their early love, they finally shed light on the ugly history of Jolie’s hometown.
A page-turning blend of romance and historical gothic, American Ghost is a triumph — the novel that this outstanding Southern author was born to write.
"In her fourth novel (after The Schooling of Claybird Catts), Owens takes on an ugly subject and largely succeeds with an engrossing story. Based on the last reported lynching in America, Owens relocates the history to a tiny Florida town, where, in 1938, Henry Kite, a black man, was lynched after shooting a Jewish storekeeper. Decades later, the storekeeper's great-grandson, Sam, a graduate student in anthropology, arrives to investigate the lynching. Things get complicated when he falls for Jolie, a Pentecostal preacher's daughter whose family are thought of as 'inbred hillbillies.' In the town of Hendrix, everyone knows everything, and tongues wag over Jolie's catching herself a 'rich Jew.' Then, while hunting with her brothers, Sam is shot. As he recuperates, Jolie flees, believing he was only using her for the investigation. The two don't meet again until a decade later when another investigator becomes interested in the lynching. A thwarted romance set against the backdrop of a town's difficult history, this story showcases Owens's talent for characterization and her ability to make settings come alive, but her choice to write dialogue in dialect sounds too much like something we've heard before. Agent: Marly Rusoff & Associates." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Owens’s voice is as pure as a stream and as real as a plowed furrow. The South has rarely produced a writer this authentic and original. She is the real thing, at last.” Pat Conroy
"Part-thriller, part romance, and based on an actual event in the author's hometown, this wrenching novel is a fine example of southern storytelling." People Magazine
"Owens brings the vibrancy of a small Southern community to bear on a gothic tale." The New York Times
"A taut yarn about breaking silence." Good Housekeeping
“Owens weaves complex narrative strands together in a captivating story abundant with historical context and characterizations that reflect the foibles of human nature.” Shelf Awareness
"The past haunts the present in this engaging...offering inspired by actual events." Booklist
“A skillfully written, well-researched book....Owens brings a dark period of history to light in a book about Southern Allegiances, racial tensions and shameful acts.” Kirkus
"Owens’ voice [is] so authentic and her characters [are] so alive. Their motivations, reactions and dialogue feel so true, they could almost be real." Paste
Jolie Hoyt is a good southern girl living in Hendrix, a small Florida Panhandle town. The daughter of a Pentecostal preacher who sells insurance on the side, and the best friend of a lively beauty who moves to the big city to pursue a career in interior design, Jolie is all too aware of her family's closet full of secrets and long-held distrust of outsiders. Nevertheless, she throws caution to the wind when she meets Sam Lense, a Jewish anthropology student from Miami, who is in town to study the ethnic makeup of the region.
Jolie and Sam fall recklessly in love and dream of beginning a life together, far away from Jolie's buried past. But their affair ends abruptly when Sam is discovered to have pried too deeply into Hendrix's dark racial history and he becomes the latest victim in a long tradition of small-town violence.
Twelve years later, when a black businessman from Memphis returns to Hendrix to do right by his father's memory, Jolie and Sam are brought together again. They are forced to revisit the unresolved issues of their young love and finally shed light on the ugly history of Jolie's hometown.
A complex and compulsively readable Southern saga, continuing in the tradition established by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and brought into the new millennium by writers like Karen Russell and Kathryn Stockett, American Ghost was inspired by Janis Owens's extensive research on a real lynching that occurred in 1934 in Marianna, Florida.
American Ghost is a richly woven exploration of how the events of our past haunt our present.
About the Author
Janis Owens is the author of three previous novels and a regional cookbook. The only daughter of a Pentecostal preacher turned insurance salesman, she inherited her love of storytelling from her parents. She lives in Newberry, Florida.