The book opens when its narrator and title character is eight years old, growing up in rural Louisiana:
"My name is Calla Lily Ponder. I was born in 1953 in La Luna, Louisiana, on the banks of the La Luna River. That is where my mother cut and curled hair, and my father and mother together taught tango, waltz, and Cajun two-step. They said they named me for their favorite flower because they wanted me to spiral open into a radiant beauty, inside and out. Even when I was born, a red, tiny, hollering thing, they claimed they could see the beautiful, creamy-colored, velvety bloom of a calla lily.
My eyes are blue like my mother’s – I call her M’Dear – and my complexion is olive like Papa’s. I guess the only thing that resembles the flower I’m named for is my long, strong legs. They’ve served me well so far, and I’m grateful for that. I was taught not to care much what other people thought, unless someone said you were mean to them, and it was true. Then you better pay attention. My big brothers and I learned this at an early age: That it is kindness that makes you rich."
Calla tells her story, from her childhood in La Luna with M’Dear, Papa, and her brothers through romances, lifelong friendships, a career in New Orleans, and all of the ups and downs that come with every life. That’s what makes this book so appealing – the author’s ability to portray real life, with its highs and lows, joys and sorrows. Calla is one of the most endearing characters I’ve ever encountered in a book. I was concerned at first that the sweetness of the book might turn out to be cloying (and some reviewers thought it was), but Calla Lily just happens to be a pleasant, kind main character, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that I love everything about Louisiana (we used to live in New Orleans), and this novel perfectly captures its unique spirit and character. I could picture the tiny town of La Luna, and I felt like I was right there with Calla when she moved to New Orleans, experiencing that one-of-a-kind city for the first time.
I love to read, and it’s rare that I prefer the audio version of a book to the printed version, but this was one of those exceptions. The reader, Judith Ivey, has the perfect southern Louisiana accent and portrays Calla Lily both as a child and as an adult so flawlessly that you forget you’re listening to a fictional story. She made Calla and the other characters come alive, until I felt like I was in La Luna myself.
The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder was one of my favorite books read or listened to all year. I’m so late with this review in part because I was sick when I finished the book, but I think I also put off writing the review because I wasn’t sure exactly how to capture the warmth and spirit of this special novel. I got a print version of the book out of the library so that I could find quotes for this review, and I ended up reading much of it again, as I browsed through the book and spotted favorite passages I had listened to. Do yourself a favor and escape into the world of La Luna for a while and get to know Calla Lily Ponder. You won’t regret it.
416 pages, Harper-Collins
Audio book by HarperAudio
Listen to a sample of the audio.