80 Proof Lives by Felicia S.W. Thomas
80 Proof Lives, the first published novel by Felicia S.W. Thomas, is a cleverly written tale of love, lies, and loss of innocence. Set in the 1970s in Quincy, Florida, the story centers on “…Fla, which rhymes with clay” (Thomas 10), a 15-year-old girl whose life is changed abruptly when she must go to work for Miss Lipstick, the local bootlegger and madam. During this time, Fla discovers that things are not always what they appear to be and begins her summer-long journey of self-discovery.
From the start, Felicia compels the reader to want to learn more about this young girl’s life - a life surrounded by alcoholism, drug abuse, and poverty. The smells, sounds, and sights of rural America either entice the reader to reminiscence about their own childhood or to wonder at how much strength it takes to overcome such unfortunate beginnings. The story holds you captive, as you experience (right along with Fla) an assortment of humorous, upsetting, and heartwarming situations that caused me to cry, laugh out loud, or just simmer in anger!
Felicia makes the characters relatable and reminds us that outward appearances sometimes belie a person’s fragile inward emotions. From Miss Lipstick to Mr. Curtis to Momma to Jerome – the supporting cast exhibits the good, bad, and ugly human flaws that are present in us all. Judgment is also an underlying theme in the novel, and even Fla is checked by her boss lady when she judges Miss Lipstick’s clientele: “You know when somebody break a leg, they need crutches for a while to help them get better…All these people, what broke in they lives ain’t better yet…You just see the ones who drink they crutch. Folks hide they pain in many ways” (Thomas 52-53).
Felicia’s ability to make the reader feel through her writing is the sign of a true wordsmith, and her novel teaches us about acceptance, trust, and forgiveness. But to me, the most important lesson learned is that where we start out in life does not determine where we end up!
Peace : )