Reviewed by Kristin
After a self-imposed exile in Vermont, Leelee Satterfield is back in Memphis and ready to open the Peach Blossom Inn restaurant. Even better, Peter (her love interest and the chef from the Vermont version of the Peach Blossom Inn) has come to be her chef in Memphis. Of course, Yankee-born Peter doesn’t always understand southern vocabulary or the nuances of conversational styles. Peter is much more direct, and doesn’t understand why Leelee can’t escape from an annoying neighbor or a longtime nemesis who wants to be invited to her restaurant grand opening celebration. Leelee is ready to open her elegant doors, but someone is looking for a way to close her business before it even opens.
Back in her natural habitat, Leelee is reunited with her childhood mother-figure, 83-year-old Kissie. Kissie was the African American nanny who took care of Leelee as a child, fixing hair and kissing boo-boos when her mother was not in a fit state. Thanks to Leelee’s mother’s love affair with Glenlivet scotch, Kissie was needed more often than not. Now, Kissie is there to care for Leelee’s two little girls: Sarah and Isabella. For the first time, Leelee understands how much Kissie has given of her own life to care for her employer’s family. This is yet another instance of different cultures colliding and melding, this time racially and socioeconomically.
The cast of characters is rounded out by Leelee’s ex-husband Baker, southern girlfriends and northern friends/former employees who put in an appearance supporting the new Peach Blossom Inn. Most everyone has Leelee’s back, except perhaps for an old acquaintance of her mother and a business rival from Vermont.
The only criticism I have of this book is that the annoying neighbor Riley has difficulty pronouncing his “R”s and the author emphasizes his speech impediment during every encounter throughout the book. I would guess that this is because of the theme of language misunderstandings, but after a couple of paragraphs of Riley (or “Wiley”) saying things like “That alone is another benefit, as I could make a huge diffewence in the efficiency of your westauwant opewation.” I am ready to throw Riley out the door.
As a follow up to Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter and Yankee Doodle Dixie, Southern as a Second Language is engaging and well-written. As someone who has lived in a few different parts of the country, I can understand how a newcomer has to adjust to the language and culture of a new area. When I first moved to Birmingham, Alabama, I couldn’t understand a word the Winn-Dixie cashier said to me. Eventually, my ears “tuned-in” and I could comprehend polite conversation once again. I think that any transplant to the south could benefit from a course in “Southern as a Second Language”.