It Happened in Silence
Karla M. Jay
Book Circle Press (2020)
Reviewed by Jill Rey for Reader Views (1/2021)
“It Happened in Silence” conquers Southern history in an intensely emotional and thrilling way. From chain gangs of the 1920s to the women’s KKK, author Karla M. Jay gives readers a spectacular work of historical fiction.
Willow is mute, has been since birth, thus everything that happens to her is met with silence. Fortunately, this book follows not just Willow, but her brother Briar and Ardith, a member of the women’s KKK movement. Briar left the family homestead after the death of his oldest brother in a mining accident 15 months ago, vowing to never return. However, while wandering in his new life he stumbles into a corrupt town and finds himself on a prison chain gang – a popular Georgia labor tactic in the 1920s. “It Happened in Silence” also provides us a third and seemingly unrelated narrator, Ardith. Ardith may be hiding a secret, but on the outside she’s a well-off member of the women’s KKK. Each of our three narrators has more in common than first meets the eye and the winding together of their stories makes this a surprisingly delightful read despite the heavy themes and less than glamourous history of Georgia.
Ultimately, Willow is our lead heroine and the character readers will cheer for throughout her Herculean attempts to send word to her brother about events on the family homestead. While Willow is looked down upon for being mute, she navigates the world off her family’s mountain in ways that prove her strength and lessen any “weaknesses” she may outwardly possess. Each of the three characters are slowly woven together throughout the story, adding deeply to the narrative building while allowing readers to grasp the significant social class structures present within the state of Georgia. Jay brings perspective, kindness and darkness to her plots that draw readers ever nearer to the unlikely finale.
“It Happened in Silence” touches on life in the Appalachian Mountains, chain gangs, women’s KKK, eugenics, living with disabilities and other monumental historical moments in Georgian history. The stories of different social classes are brought to life as Jay navigates the complexities of one’s upbringing and identity. A distinctly moving read that will certainly leave readers thinking about the history of the United States and the strangers they surround themselves with.