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BOOK REVIEW The Ada Decades
by Liz Baudler
2017-08-02

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By Paula Martinac. $9.99; Bywater Books; 331 pages

As a romance, The Ada Decades fits the "new girl comes to town" category.

In this case, Ada Shook, from rural North Carolina, is the new librarian at her hometown middle school in 1957. Cam Lively, on the other hand, has been teaching there for three years, but has many things she can teach the somewhat sheltered, bookish Ada.

The school is reeling from forced integration and while Cam is clearly on the side of social justice, Ada still needs to shed her old belief systems. Her father kept a photograph of a lynching in his toolbox and while Ada is horrified to find it as a teenager, it's years before she make a definitive stand of her own against local racism, or to even realize she might want to do so.

But Cam is intrigued by quiet local Ada, whistling "Marian the Librarian" in a subtle attempt to woo her, while Ada is oddly curious about Cam, who sparks the same feelings she had for her college chum Natalie. Eventually, it becomes clear at a book club meeting that Cam and her associates are the gay contingent of their small Southern town, and that two women are serious about giving things a try.

What follows is a decades-long romance that sees the two combating censorship, family trauma, and cancer, plus traveling to New York in the '50s to get an idea of what they might have missed by staying down South. They don't always get along, but their bond is clear, and it's heartening to see them try to shift each other's beliefs and the beliefs of those around them.

It's a sweet story that feels simple. There are no grand literary tricks here—just honest writing and history. Martinac does great work in depicting what it might be like to feel like a forgotten second-class citizen both in the '60s as well as more recently. She occasionally makes some unnecessary efforts, shifting into Cam's perspective when the narrative is 90 percent Ada's, but overall it doesn't mar her otherwise solid storytelling. Ada's evolution from timid town girl to strong, thoughtful woman is a delight to observe, and while she isn't the flashiest character to ever stroll across the paper, she—and her partner, Cam—are worth getting to know.


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