The Last Carolina Girl by Megan Church

“This book was beautiful. Heartbreaking, but beautiful.”

Review by AnnaScott Cross

A searing book club novel for fans of Where the Crawdad’s Sing and The Girls in the Stilt House following one girl fighting for her family, her body, and her right to create a future all her own.

Some folks will do anything to control the wild spirit of a Carolina girl…

For fourteen-year-old Leah Payne, life in her beloved coastal Carolina town is as simple as it is free. Devoted to her lumberjack father and running through the wilds where the forest meets the shore, Leah’s country life is as natural as the Loblolly pines that rise to greet the Southern sky.

When an accident takes her father’s life, Leah is wrenched from her small community and cast into a family of strangers with a terrible secret. Separated from her only home, Leah is kept apart from the family and forced to act as a helpmate for the well-to-do household. When a moment of violence and prejudice thrusts Leah into the center of the state’s shameful darkness, she must fight for her own future against a world that doesn’t always value the wild spirit of a Carolina girl.

Set in 1935 against the very real backdrop of a recently formed state eugenics board, The Last Carolina Girl is a powerful and heart-wrenching story of fierce strength, forgotten history, autonomy, and the places and people we ultimately call home.

Release Date: 3/28/2023

Genre: Adult | Historical Fiction

Pages: 304

I received a copy of this audiobook from Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are entirely my own, and I am writing a voluntary review.

This book was beautiful. Heartbreaking, but beautiful.

This book is often compared to Where the Crawdads Sing. In my opinion, though, this book is the authentic North Carolina version of Where the Crawdads Sing. As someone who has been born and raised in North Carolina, my biggest complaint about Where the Crawdads Sing is how it didn’t feel like North Carolina. It felt more like it was based on a loose generalization of the South, and the author just picked North Carolina and threw in a few cities without ever even looking at a map. But enough about that book.

The Last Carolina Girl felt so authentically North Carolina. Leah grows up in Holden Beach, which I absolutely love. The descriptions of the coast, the mannerisms, and the cultural aspects were spot on. I especially loved that the book works in North Carolina’s history of eugenics. While that is a dark spot on our state’s past, it was a harsh reality for many in that era, and it doesn’t get discussed enough.

The story felt like a combination of Where the Crawdads Sing (obviously) and Anne of Green Gables. Like these two, Leah is a highly introspective character with a fairly traumatic childhood, and so be prepared to feel everything acutely right alongside her.

My only teeny-tiny complaint is that the ending felt a bit rushed. I would have liked a bit more time to settle in with it, and some more explanations.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Ratings:

Action & Gore:

Rating: 3 out of 10.
3. Mild action (common injuries with some detail).

Romance & Spice:

Rating: 1 out of 10.
1. Very mild content (feel-good vibes but nothing physical--not even kissing). 

Cursing & Vulgarity:

Rating: 3 out of 10.
3. Infrequent mild cursing (less than 10 "h*ll"s etc. includes British words "Bloody" etc.)

Other Trigger Warnings:

Content Warnings: With the eugenics conversation, there is talk of hysterectomies, but it is all very subtle and tasteful.

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