Summary from

missing isaacThere was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for. Before it’s all over, Pete–and the people he loves most–will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.

My What I Liked About the Book

This sweet coming-of-age story will find you longing for simpler times.  We first meet the main character, Pete, when he is a 12-year-old boy who yearns to be like his father.  When his father is killed in a cotton harvesting accident, Pete seeks solstice and a fatherly figure in his dad’s African-American ranch hand, Isaac.  Isaac not only fills some of the emptiness Pete feels after his father’s death, but also allows Pete to get a glimpse into the lives of the Black Community in Glory, Alabama, a world much different from the one in which Pete grew up.  When Isaac goes missing one day, Pete is heartbroken over his loss, the second in his young life.  It’s only when he meets Dovey, a “backwoods” girl who is overcoming the death of her mother, that he finds the answer to the unbearable loneliness that has overtaken his life.

The highlight of Missing Isaac is the well-developed cast of characters.  You see multiple angles of each character throughout the book, and by the end you can picture yourself sitting on the farmer’s porch sipping sweet tea with them.  Throughout this sweet story, you get to see how each character is seen through the eyes of the town, how they see each other, the flaws that others detect that they may or may not realize in themselves, and how they handle themselves in the face of tragedy.  In the end, you can’t help but root for every single one of them.

What I Didn’t Like About the Book

This coming-of-age story is incredibly well-written, but it takes a while to understand what Missing Isaac is really about.  Is it a story of a boy handling his father’s death?  A mystery surrounding Isaac’s disappearance?   A commentary on social class in 1960s Alabama?  A love story between two young teens?  It feels like the author loses Isaac’s storyline for a part of the book, and I remember worrying about whether the story  would get back to his disappearance.  Luckily it did, and in the end you can see how it all wove together.

In addition, I will also predict that some people won’t like how Missing Isaac addresses the plight of an African-American community in the Deep South during the Civil Rights Era.  The book made it sound like discrimination rarely existed, and both communities were basically equal.  However, I see this as a calculated decision by the author.  She didn’t want to write about the people and communities who endured horrific atrocities– she wanted to write about people who were mostly accepted into a white town, and how both the white and black communities adjusted to each other and tried to figure how how to treat each other during the Civil Rights Era.  In our socially-concious, modern society, we tend to focus solely on the injustices of history.  However, not ALL books need to be shocking commentaries on social issues.  Sometimes, it’s good to read a story about people of different backgrounds just trying to be people.  I don’t think the author’s intend was to IGNORE the civil rights issues of the time as much as it was to approach it from a different angle.  However, I would understand if someone felt as though the author was glossing over the terrible discrimination that African-Americans in the south faced.

Would I recommend this book?

Absolutely.  Missing Isaac is a quick read with well-developed characters and a sweet plot that will make you think you’ve stumbled upon the script to a Hallmark movie.    It’s a refreshing tale of two young people who overcome their personal tragedies by finding love in the depths of loneliness.  The book it becomes may not be the book you expected at the beginning, but you won’t regret opening your heart to this colorful cast of characters.  4 / 5 stars.

Thank you to the author, Valerie Fraser Luesse, the publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in advance in exchange for my honest review.

Missing Isaac Review Box


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