When Polly Shine arrives at the Satterfield plantation, the slaves take notice. Here is a woman who can talk back to the master, secure her own building for an infirmary, cure the sick, and make barren women have children. Polly is immediately seen as a saint and a witch in equal measure, but it is Granada, the young black girl who has spent most of her life dressed in satin finery as the substitute daughter for her white mistress, who is impacted the most by Polly’s arrival. Granada is awed by Polly’s skill, scared by her abilities, and indignant that she has to help Polly with her work. The biggest issue, however, is Granada’s unwillingness to recognize her past – and the color of her own skin.
So begins one of the best books I’ve read in many months. The Healing has it all: fascinating characters, engaging themes, enthralling plot, spot-on dialogue, and a satisfying conclusion. It also provides insight into an environment – the antebellum plantation – that we all think we understand. Odell proves to us that we don’t. There are few stereotypes or caricatures here, and Odell penetrates the biases we have of how race relations in this type of place should “work.” As he illustrates a complete picture of plantation life, he also asks us to assess our understanding of how culture is created, how a people can achieve (and maintain) freedom, and how one girl can wake up to her past in order to claim her future. This is a tremendous achievement. It is rare that I want to find the author immediately after finishing a novel and thank them for adding this to the world of books, but this is exactly how I felt after I finished The Healing. It’s just that good.