I loved Liza Palmer's Conversations with the Fat Girl and liked her More Like Her, so I was excited to get a chance to review Nowhere but Home (published by William Morrow 2013). I like coming home tales, ones that challenge the "you can't go home again" conversation.
In this novel, Texan-turned-Yankee Queenie Wake is fired from her chef's job once again, and she finally admits a sort of defeat and heads back to her tiny Texas town. She's the daughter of the town's deceased tramp, who bestowed upon her the unfortunate name, Queen Elizabeth. She and her sister—the mother of the town's quarterback— have always been considered the city's trash. But she's been gone for a decade, and Queenie realizes that she doesn't have to accept that title anymore.
The novel takes a fascinating twist as Queenie accepts a job at the local prison, cooking last meals for death-row inmates. I found this part of the novel particularly intriguing. I never considered that this is actually a job, and yet it must be fulfilled. I appreciated Palmer's thoughtful and insightful treatment of both Queenie, the inmates, and the prison staff.
Besides the coming-home theme and the wonderful look into last meals, Palmer includes a satisfying romance. As one might predict, the daughter of the town tramp and the son of the town's richest family once had a secret and powerful romance. The are bound to meet up again, and their story unfolds bit by bit.
I think what I loved the most about this novel, besides the death-row parts, was the unraveling of all of Queenie's assumptions. She realizes in the course of the novel that she didn't always know the whole story and that many of her decisions and choices were based on only partial information. This is generally true for all of us, of course, but I enjoyed watching a character have "a-ha!" moments, moments of redemption.
Palmer is funny, insightful, and a great writer of dialogue. Highly recommended!