I was profoundly moved by this book. It’s usually the case that sequels are not as strong as the original book that they follow, but What’s Best for Jane was an exception. To say this is a different kind of romance doesn’t even do it justice. Bett Norris not only maintains the strong character development and sense of place and time that she mastered in Miss McGhee, she also deals with the growing relationship of Mary McGhee and Jane Jackson in the most sensitive and yet unflinching manner. It’s for us as readers to decide what constitutes a romantic attachment and what is the acceptable and appropriate “romantic” feeling of a parent for a child. This is the dilemma that Mary finds herself confronting with profound worry and a high degree of self-hatred. It takes enormous skill for a writer to handle this kind of material sensitively and well, making us puzzle these questions along with the characters while not turning us off to something that we think is inappropriate. Norris succeeds.
I think the book stands on its own but I would advise that you read Miss McGhee first, just to get a sense of the relationship between Mary and Lila and about the turbulent times in the 50s and 60s that they lived through in order to best appreciate how the characters in What’s Best for Jane are still dealing with the aftermath.
This book is one that could span genres between YA and adult fiction. Much of Jane’s story is told in the style of a YA book and much of Mary’s is adult fiction. But even so, the book flows nicely and fits together.
I hope Norris keeps writing and keeps writing about the South. It feels like she may have more stories to tell us.