Cyn by Mary O’Dell

Cyn by Mary O’Dell
Publisher: Turquoise Morning Press
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (200 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Beautiful, blonde, and only eight years old, Cynthia Tabu Potter carries within her a dark seed passed down by her elders. Young Molly McAdams, gradually drawn in by her friend’s intense and sensual nature, follows her down a path that comes near to destroying herself and both their families.

In the best tradition of the dark southern tale, we meet a gaggle of diverse and colorful characters—lovable, alcoholic Benny; the voluptuous and permissive Midge; Ryan the rigid Baptist deacon and Clara his timid, little wife; along with Cyn’s sisters, all of whom are named for perfumes. As all of the characters are drawn into the vortex of this charismatic and intense child, we come to realize that Cyn’s grandmother, witchy-woman Mumz Potter, is still in the wings, running the show.

Will Molly be able to escape in time to save herself and the others, or will Cyn win out?

What does it mean to be a good person? Is it something one discerns by the absence of harmful choices or the presence of helpful ones?

Sometimes dark secrets hide behind masks of cheerfulness. What initially attracted me to Cyn was Mumz Potter’s fear that someone’s fate could be determined by decisions made by their ancestors decades earlier. The best scenes gently brush against this idea as Cyn and Molly slowly transition away from childhood.

Most of the people in this tale are wonderfully nuanced individuals, but there were a few secondary characters who were written in such a stereotypical manner that they had trouble fitting into the narrative. Given everything this book has to say about the consequences of ignorance I found it a little odd that those characters were treated that way. It’s difficult for me to say anything more about these discrepancies without venturing into spoiler territory, but this is something that I would have loved to see explored in greater depth as the story progresses.

The smooth, descriptive writing style made it impossible for me to put this tale down. Ms. O’Dell captures the social, religious, and political mores of a rural, southern community in the 1950s so precisely that at times I felt as if I were watching a movie inside of my mind. She doesn’t shy away from characters whose opinions would be offensive in today’s world, but neither does she assume that everyone who lived in that time and place shared those prejudices.

Cyn is a novel that will haunt me for a long time. This is a great choice for anyone who is in the mood to get lost in another world for a few hundred pages.

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