Book Review: In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow – 5 stars

I can’t begin to tell you where this book came from or how I got my hands on it but I LOVED IT! Definitely my favorite book of the year so far! The characters and the story are both so compelling and real…you feel like you know Knot, Otis Lee and their friends and family from the very beginning.

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow has (as far as I can tell) flown under the radar for book buzz and that, in my opinion, is a damn shame! Set in a rural North Carolina town, we meet Azalea (Knot) Centre and get drawn into the story of her loves, friendships and failures. The book follows her and most of her townspeople for over 5 decades and we get to watch the way a story in a small town plays out.

Knot is by no means perfect…early in the story you will realize that she has a serious drinking problem…but she is who she is and that’s believable and lovable. The endearing relationships she develops with men and women in her community and the secrets they choose to keep from and for each other will keep you turning the pages to see who will thrive and who will falter when all things come to light (Because you absolutely have to believe they will, right? No secret ever stays secret forever!)

Knot and may of her compatriots will make you want to scream at times…whomp them upside the head and say, ‘What are you THINKING? Don’t do THAT!’ but you’ll see the rationale and life behind all of their decisions. I grinned like a fool during many of the exchanges between characters…they are so raw and so real. Although the characters are mainly Black, some of the interactions remind me so much of my Appalachian-stock family that I couldn’t help but shake my head!

Winslow knows from what he writes…I have no idea what his background might be but there’s no way to write such intriguing and believable characters without some experience of their world. He writes women just as well as men and I really admired that…I’ve encountered many books where women are props or plot movers for the male characters. That’s never the case in West Mills.

Although the Knot and Otis Lee’s stories end after many, many years of life…I would relish the opportunity to see what Winslow could do with a book about the next generation in West Mills. Regardless of what he decides to focus on in his next book, I’ll definitely be lined up to get my hands on it. I miss the town of West Mills and all of its endearing inhabitants and desperately want Winslow to draw me in that way again!

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