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Letter to My Daughter: A Novel    by George Bishop order for
Letter to My Daughter
by George Bishop
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

George Bishop's Letter to My Daughter is a short, sweet and poignant novel, set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It explores the mother/ daughter relationship in the years that fray it most, even with the best intentions on both sides. As this mother muses, 'I was your age once ... And I promised myself that if I ever had a daughter, I would be a better parent to her than mine were to me.'

After the latest argument between Laura and her almost fifteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth (named after Elizabeth Barrett Browning) ends with a slap, Liz takes the family car and leaves her fate to her parents' increasingly anxious imaginations. While her husband fritters away his time on unnecessary chores, Laura fills in the long wait by writing a letter to her daughter that she considers overdue, sharing the secrets and the angst she had kept from her own mother.

Laura shares her story with Liz (who she hopes will return to take it in) and the reader. A high school freshman in 1969, with Baptist parents who are narrow-minded and racist, Laura forms a friendship with a senior. Tim Prejean is a Cajun from a family Laura's father consider 'bayou niggers'. After Laura's parents catch the teens making love on the rug, they send their daughter to Sacred Heart Academy (run by nuns), where she's one of the misfits, the 'charity cases'.

Tim's letters help Laura survive that first awful year away from everything familiar. The school year also leaves Laura with her first scar, inside her left wrist, and tags her, like Hester Prynne, with a Scarlet Letter. That summer, she meets Tim secretly, only to learn that he's enlisted, taken in by a recruiter's rosy portrayal of army life and prospects. Tim does it for the training, for the money, and the college opportunity. He does it for Laura - and he ends up at war.

Laura and Tim begin to grow in different directions. He has an experience in Vietnam that shocks him to the core, while she grows into a new role, writing for the school newspaper and revealing the strengths in her fellow charity cases. Then comes tragedy. Laura does something, 'stunned by loss', that shocks her parents and teachers, and gets her into serious trouble. Which is when the peers, for whom Laura advocated in her newspaper articles, make their own stand - for her cause.

Does Liz return? George Bishop never tells us. Along with her loving parents, we hope so. And we hope she reads the missive that just might build a bridge of understanding with her mother. I recommend Letter to My Daughter to you as an elegant and heartwarming novel.

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