Book Review for “The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop” by Fannie Flagg.
Summary: “Bud Threadgoode grew up in the bustling little railroad town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, with his mother Ruth, church going and proper, and his Aunt Idgie, the fun-loving hell-raiser. Together they ran the town’s popular Whistle Stop Cafe, known far and wide for its friendly, fun, and famous “Fried Green Tomatoes.” And as Bud often said to his daughter Ruthie, of his childhood, “How lucky can you get?” But sadly, as the railroad yards shut down and the town became a ghost town, nothing was left but boarded-up buildings and memories of a happier time. Then one day, Bud decides to take one last trip, just to see where his beloved Whistle Stop used to be. In so doing, he discovers new friends, new surprises about Idgie’s life, and about Ninny Threadgoode, Evelyn Couch, other beloved Flagg characters, and also about the town itself. He also sets off a series of events, both touching and inspiring, which change his life and the lives of his daughter and many others. Could these events all be just coincidences? Or something else? And can you go home again?” Thanks for the free book, @PRHGlobal/@prhinternational
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Humor, Fiction, Family Saga; Settings: Contemporary, Historical, USA – Alabama, Georgia, Maryland; Other Categories: Novel, Sequel.
As an introduction, I read and reviewed Fannie Flagg’s 1987 break-out novel, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” back in 2009, long before I started this blog. However, after all traces of that review had disappeared from the Internet, I uploaded my review to my previous blog, which ended up here as well. This was one of those books that I read after seeing the film, and as you’ll see from my review in the link above, it got a full 5/5 stars (and is one of the few books-to-movie adaptations that works really well). I’m sure that the love and adoration for that book has garnered Flagg many requests for a sequel, and here it finally is after “only” 33 years! And what a sequel it is. (An aside: After noting that her novel, “The Whole Town’s Talking” was a retrospective of her Elmwood Springs books, and now this novel being a type of closure for Whistle Stop, I’m starting to worry if Flagg isn’t thinking of retiring. I certainly hope not, but it did cross my mind. Please don’t leave us, Fannie!)
My total delight in this book means that I’m not exactly sure how to write this review, but I’ll try. Let’s put it this way. It was like… catching up with old friends, like when I finally went to one of my High School reunions, and could have talked with these people for weeks without stopping. In this novel, Flagg not only brings us up to date with all the characters from the first novel, she also gives us a few more stories about them from the timeline of the previous book. I have my suspicion that these were bits and pieces that she left out of the first one, except for a few that helped bring the more contemporary action better into view. One of the ways we get both bits from the past and current updates is through Dot Weems’ yearly newsletters. Flagg has her keeping up with everyone who lived in Whistle Stop, first by sending them in the post, and later by sending them by email! These were so fun and touching to read, like finding an old stash of letters from a close friend.
Of course, the titular person in this book is Buddy Threadgoode, and yes, a very good deal of this novel focuses on him. We find out what happened to him as he grew up, married his childhood sweetheart, and had a daughter of his own – whom he named Ruth, after his own mother. But Flagg doesn’t stop there, and she includes Ruth’s life as well, with all its ups and downs. Furthermore, those who remember the previous book, will recall Evelyn Couch, the woman who gets to know Bud’s aunt Ninny Threadgoode when she finds herself with no one to talk to at her mother-in-law’s old age home where Ninny was also living. In this book, Evelyn becomes an equally important character, which is truly a pleasure. (Those who only saw the film will remember Evelyn and the scene in the parking lot when a woman steals the parking space she was waiting for, telling Evelyn that she’s younger and faster! The best line of that movie is Evelyn’s saying “I’m older and have more insurance!” as she crashes into the younger woman’s car!)
Look, I could go on and on about how adorably Flagg draws these familiar characters, while adding a few more new characters, both likeable and not. I could add how much I like that Flagg does what she can to give the good characters a happy ending, while gently sticking it to those who aren’t very pleasant. I could describe how all the back and forth in time isn’t at all confusing, and they all fit together so lovingly like a familiar puzzle. I could also say that I had a smile on my face the whole time reading this novel, even when I broke down in tears. I could also allude to how the twist that Flagg adds near the end of this story is just perfection. But why bother? This book was totally charming, witty, and poignant, from start to finish. If you’ve read Fried Green Tomatoes, this should be required reading. If not, I don’t think you’ll be missing too much by starting out with this book and going back to the first one. In short, I strongly, warmly, and wholeheartedly recommend this novel, and can give it no less than a full five out of five stars.
Penguin Random House will release “The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop” by Fanny Flagg on October 27, 2020 (today!). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping), Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.