24 May 2014


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and One!

Mother's Birthplaces is turning out to be a harder theme than I thought. There was one novel I had to scrap after I reread the chapter I only vaguely remembered, and realised that the setting wasn't the mother's birthplace but the home her father moved to after he finally retired. It still had many relics from her childhood . . . but that's not the same thing, is it?

There was another novel I considered, but neither the text itself nor the Internet could confirm beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not the mother of one character had been born in the setting I had in mind. On the other hand, the sequel to that novel--or rather, the online synopses of the sequel--were more explicit about another character visiting her mother's birthplace. So I went out and got a copy of that second novel . . . and now here is a post about one of its settings.

Burgess, Alabama
The Second Summer of the Sisterhood
by Ann Brashares

At first Bridget thought she remembered nothing from Burgess. Then, as she ambled around town, a few little things jogged her memory . . .

Bridget let her feet guide her, because they seemed to have a better memory than her head. She walked farther along Market Street until the village stretched out a little. There were hydrangeas in bloom in front of every house--big purple balls.

Past the Methodist church, a wide field stretched out, green and lush. It went along for three blocks, bordered by giant, ancient oak trees and pretty iron benches. At the far end, she noticed soccer goals marking a beautiful green regulation soccer field. She felt breathless as she looked at it. There was a rumbling, creaking feeling in her brain as it searched its many dusty, unconsidered files.

Next to Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club, which gave us Locus Focus 99, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood suits my May Is for Mothers theme the best. I shouldn't have been so surprised: after all, the four main characters became "sisters" thanks to their mothers growing close when the latter were pregnant at the same time. What their mothers bring to the table wasn't a big theme in the first book of the series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but here, it all hangs out without shame: Lena learns a secret from her mother's romantic past, Carmen is scandalised when her mother starts dating again, Tibby produces and publicly screens a film that makes her mother look like a fool . . . and Bridget decides to visit her mother's home town, where Bridget hasn't set foot since before her mother died.

As expected, Burgess, Alabama gets to be the long-locked box containing the missing clues to a young woman's identity. This daughter visits not just to learn more about a mother who died too soon, but to learn more about herself. It could have phoned in this role and been fine. But Burgess does one better than that, also being an unexpectedly motherly town.

If settings can be surrogates, then we've found a paragon. Burgess knows how to make those who are motherless and scared feel loved and safe again. It creates a sense of home by creating a center--a hearth, if you like--in one special place . . . and then letting the warmth radiate outwards, even to the farthest ends of town, like the soccer football field. And it does this so subtly that it never smothers, although it does hover over those it considers dear. There is neither rushing nor stalling: this town lets you grow up at your own pace, whether you are a girl who is allowed on the boys' soccer football team because it's what you need to thrive as a player . . . or a young woman who has been kept in the dark for too long and needs some honest answers at last. 

Like the setting I chose for Locus Focus 100, Burgess is based on an actual town but is more of an archetype in the story it appears in. It's the place which we all wish we could run to when we need it . . . and a place which will not try to tie us down when it's time to leave again. It seems to understand that even if all we take away is a memory of it, that can be enough to keep us warm for the rest of our lives. 

Question of the Week: What is the most motherly place that you have visited?

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If you have a Locus Focus post of your own today, please leave the link in the combox. I would love to read it and to discuss it with you! =)

Learn more about Locus Focus on the Settings page.

Image Source: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares 


Carmel @ Rabid Reads said...

Ha! There's no way I'd ever be able to find a book unless I picked a local author. Fun post!

Enbrethiliel said...


Half the fun of doing Locus Focus is the scavenger hunt every theme eventually turns into. I'm sure that if you put this sort of pressure on yourself, you'd be pleasantly surprised at what you can come up with! =)

Thanks for reading!

Melissa Robles said...

Interesting... I like this Locus Focus theme. It's different, and it's something that gets you thinking "why that place?". I haven't read the sisterhood series, but I've seen the movies. They're nice. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Melissa! I find that when you start asking "Why that place?" you end up with some fantastic answers. =)