Ware, Libby. Lum. She Writes Press, 2015. paperback. 214p. $16.95. ISBN: 9781631520037
In the year 1933, when the government decides to build the Skyline Drive through the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, Lum, short for Columbia, discovers that she has the power to make her own choices. Her story shuttles back and forth through her life so far as we learn that she has an intersex condition that causes her to have a somewhat masculine appearance. She has been told she cannot marry and that leaves her without a recognized place in her family and culture.
Lum becomes a care-giver, moving among the extended family’s houses as a new baby or ailing elder needs care. She adds care of the schoolteacher’s father in order to earn some money of her own. As he recovers, he plans to set up a boarding house for road workers with Lum to manage it. Meanwhile, Lum has found friends among the most marginalized people in the region, a black peddler, and a Melungeon ex-con. Just when Lum begins to see opportunities for herself, their lives become even more difficult. Her relatives also struggle as they are pushed to sell their family farms.
Like Eugenides’ Middlesex, this is a literary approach to intersex as a shaper of the protagonist’s character. Her community, like Lum, is in transition and must cope with both opportunities and loss. The novel raises questions about government intervention that brings jobs and takes away heritage. It will appeal primarily to readers interested in the historical context.
Reviewed by: Carolyn Caywood, retired from Virginia Beach Public Library