The Girl from Charnelle
Willa Award Winner for Contemporary Fiction
Southwest Book of the Year
Editor's Choice, Historical Novel Society
Finalist, James Jones First Novel Award
Library Journal Starred Review
Mississippi Press/Gulf Coast Live Best Book of Year
School Library Journal Best Adult Book
for High School Students
It’s 1960 in the Panhandle town of Charnelle, Texas — a year and a half since sixteen-year-old Laura Tate’s mother boarded a bus and mysteriously disappeared. Assuming responsibility for the Tate household, Laura cares for her father and three brothers and outwardly maintains a sense of calm. But her balance is upset and the repercussions of her family’s struggles are revealed when a chance encounter with a married man leads Laura into a complicated relationship for which she is unprepared. As Kennedy battles Nixon for the White House, Laura must navigate complex emotional terrain and choose whether she, too, will flee Charnelle. Dramatizing the tension between desire and familial responsibility, The Girl from Charnelle delivers a heartfelt portrait of a young woman’s reckoning with the paradoxes of love. Eloquent, tender, and heart-wrenching, K. L. Cook’s unforgettable debut novel marks the arrival of a significant new voice in American fiction.
"This atypical coming-of-age story from Cook considers more than a young girl's erotic and emotional awakening; it's the story of an entire generation growing up too quickly. The story may start quietly, but it's deceptively simple premise builds to a tense situation that makes this debut impossible to put down until the dramatic and realistic conclusion."
~Library Journal (starred review)
"Cook's debut novel drives itself into the reader's consciousness much like the sudden, violent thunderstorms that sweep across the plains of the Texas Panhandle.... A deeply thoughtful and honest rendering of the unanswered questions of relationships and the nature of love."
"Cook has written a pitch-perfect coming-of-age novel set in a small Texas Panhandle town during the waning days of the Eisenhower administration. With remarkable insight and sensibility, Cook lays bare the cords of love and loss, yearning and redemption, that surround the human heart. This is a spellbinding read."
~Southwest Book of the Year Citation
"In the early-'60s Texas of Cook's resonant first novel... the reader recognizes the recurrent themes of motherhood and madness, the power of shame, and abandonment as a compulsive search for self.... In disturbing scenes like one in which a mama dog kills her puppies, he adroitly reveals an average family's devastating potential for violence."
"This is more than a coming-of-age novel of a young girl; rather, it is the record of the traumatic explosion of a childhood into pain and bittersweet, adult knowledge.... This is a marvelously written and well-paced, deeply affecting first novel."
~The Houston Chronicle
"Cook effectively immerses his audience in the 1960s Texas Panhandle, describing the effect of historical events on his characters and using elements of the terrain to enhance his story.... The book is fast-paced for an introspective novel, and the complex feelings of the characters make it hard to put down.... The whole is a poignant story of a young woman who must grow up too quickly. This first novel is a literary work of art."
~The Historical Novel Society (Editor's Choice)
"The Girl from Charnelle burrows not just under the reader's skin, but into the flesh as well. K. L. Cook has given us a taut, textured tale that's grounded in both character and place."
~ Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls
“The Girl from Charnelle and K. L. Cook give us characters we care about—even grow to love—set inside a story that strikes deep, the way important novels used to do. This story of running from oneself to find oneself is beautiful and tender and moving and true.”
~ Bret Lott, author of Jewel and A Song I Knew by Heart
“In The Girl from Charnelle K.L. Cook has written a brilliant portrait of a small-town teenage girl, whose secret affair shows such a complicated mix of will and entanglement, desire and accident, that it feels utterly true. The novel unfolds with a rare suspense, as it moves its characters through the threat of discovery and the after-effects of family disaster. A fresh and indelible book.”
~ Joan Silber, National Book Award finalist author of Ideas of Heaven
“K. L. Cook is the best kind of storyteller—he creates compelling characters and dives deeply through the wreckage of their lives, exploring the darkest corners and returning with pieces of courage, love, and hope. The Girl from Charnelle will capture your heart, and stay with you, long after you turn the last page.”
~ Hannah Tinti, author of Animal Crackers
“After reading The Girl from Charnelle, I'm so convinced by K.L. Cook’s writing that I believe Laura Tate is a real person with a beating, aching heart, so full of longing and loneliness that she might burst. I loved her, I was frustrated with her, I was happy for her, sad for her, but the best part is that I felt I knew her. She’s an amazing and lovely creation, and I'm honored to have met her within the pages of this book. The Girl from Charnelle grabs hold of the reader on the first page and never lets go, always building the tension, always adding another layer to this beautiful, entertaining, and ultimately profound meditation on family, friendships, and sex. This book is expertly rendered in the hands of a writer who—if we live in a just world—will soon be known throughout the country.”
~ Silas House, author of A Parchment of Leaves and The Coal Tattoo