Welcome to Litfuse Publicity’s Blog Tour for The Rhythm of Secrets
She was born Sheba Alexander, the beloved only child of Maman and Papa, a beautiful French woman and her musician husband. Sheba adored her parents and music, especially when Papa played his clarinet. After all, what’s more natural than listening to jazz on a warm and lazy New Orleans afternoon? But in 1942, when Sheba was nearly fourteen years old, a tragedy changed the course of her life. Sent to live with her paternal grandmother, Mimi Alexander, it was obvious to Sheba that she had been taken in not out of love and compassion, but because her grandmother felt a sense of duty and obligation to her grandchild. Mimi hated the way her son and his family had lived, even to the point that she insisted upon changing Sheba’s name to Sheila, with Sheila’s reluctant acquiescence. Bright and very musical, Sheila was enrolled in school for the first time — Maman had home-schooled her — and forced to attend Mimi’s church. The preacher spent a lot of time talking about sin and damnation, and Sheila did not see compassion exhibited within those walls, either.
At the age of seventeen, a naive and inexperienced Sheila met a handsome young soldier named Cliff. He had the bluest eyes and gentlest touch. He assured her that they would be together forever, and after returning to duty he would write daily until they could be reunited for good. Of course, when Cliff rejoined his unit, no letters arrived. And when Sheila had to tell Mimi that she had sinned just once with Cliff before he shipped out, she was rebuked by her grandmother and sent north on the famous train known as the City of New Orleans. Banished in shame to a Catholic home for unwed mothers, Sheila was again forced to take on a new identity. Sylvia Allen gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with sparkling blue eyes and a dark complexion. But in 1947, with no husband, no job, and no way to care for her a child that would surely be rejected by society, Sylvia reluctantly allowed the nuns to place the son she named Samuel in an orphanage.
The nuns showed her compassion that she had not experienced since the deaths of her parents, however. After leaving the home, they arranged for her to live with Miz W, a caring Christian woman who owned and operated a diner. Sheila, no longer in need of a pseudonym to protect her while pregnant, became more than a boarder to Miz W. They became as close as a mother and daughter, and it was while attending services with Miz W at the Moody Institute that Sheila heard the young Dr. Billy Graham preach a sermon that would forever change her life. It was also while waiting tables in Miz W’s diner that Sheila met Edward Franklin, a handsome young student who would become an influential and powerful preacher like his own father — and Sheila’s husband.
Sheila Franklin never forgot her beautiful son, Samuel, of course, even though she never told Edward the truth about her past. Eighteen years of partnership in marriage and ministry have been characterized by Sheila’s obedience to Edward’s will and rules, her music providing respite and relief from memories of her past and the pressure of having to be a perfect pastor’s wife.
And then one day in 1969, the telephone rings. A mysterious male voice asks, “Is this Sylvia Allen?” And Sheila knows that all of her secrets are about to be revealed, causing her marriage and the life she has carefully constructed to crumble. But she cannot turn away from the caller, who announces, “This is Samuel.” Sheila son’s has found her at last. And he needs her help. He is in love with a woman whose story sounds very much like that of Sheila’s beloved Maman. Will Sheila be able to assist him in saving the woman he says he loves? And if she does, what will it cost her?
The Rhythm of Secrets is an epic story that begins in New Orleans in 1942, as Sheba is on the brink of adulthood and forced to learn too quickly that her parents’ lives have not been as innocent or uncomplicated as a child naturally believes. Indeed, the juxtaposition of the grim truth about her mother’s past and her father’s business affairs against the beauty and rhythm of life in the heart of New Orleans quickly sets Sheba’s story in motion with shocking, rapid-fire developments. Sheba survives, thanks to her mother’s direction and her own courage, and soon finds herself living a completely new life in her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother’s bitterness and resentment about the sorrows she has endured compel her behavior, and only add to Sheba’s sense of rejection, abandonment, loneliness, and uncertainty about her future. Naturally, a young woman who has never been allowed to attend a school dance or go out on a date will become enamored with the first young man whose attention she is finally allowed to enjoy.
And that’s when Lacy’s intricately constructed, meticulously related tale becomes thoroughly absorbing. Lacy’s descriptive prose is haunting and illustrative, down to the most minute, unspared detail about the difficult times in which Sheila lives. Lacy does not shy away from the sociological implications of an unplanned pregnancy on the life of an unmarried, seventeen-year-old Southern girl. She does not flinch when exploring race relations in 1940’s Louisiana, allowing her characters to vociferously and believably react when family secrets are revealed — and judged, by some, shameful and appalling. Lacy boldly explores the difference between those who live comfortably and those who struggle, even when the lines are crossed and blurred by the intertwined relationships of her characters.
Ultimately, The Rhythm of Secrets is a tale of redemption, forgiveness, and coming to terms with one’s past in order to look forward to and embrace the future. Sheila learns through her various experiences, including the heart-breakingly recounted pregnancy, delivery, and subsequent relinquishment of her son, that she has to accept and love herself before anyone else can accept her as she is and love her without attempting to remake her into someone else’s idea of who she should be. In Lacy’s capable hands, Sheila finds redemption through motherhood when she at last comes face to face with the baby she could not raise, the boy she could not care for. Interestingly, although Sheila’s story is told in intricate detail, little is revealed about the manner in which Samuel grew up, with the exception of occasional references to his having been ridiculed because of his skin color and unknown parentage. It doesn’t matter, however, because Lacy deftly draws Sheila full circle in her journey due to her unconditional love for the son who, ironically, is battling some of the very same demons that threatened to derail Sheila’s chances at happiness.
Sheila is deliciously flawed, and there is one point in the story when she could have made a decision that would have changed everything, made her life easier and, perhaps, even allowed her to reclaim her infant son. Why she chooses as she does can be interpreted a number of ways, but it is a plot point that some readers will find momentarily infuriating. However, observing a female character gradually becoming empowered can be, and is, a magical, empathetic experience. Lacy paces Sheila’s progress toward understanding and acceptance perfectly so that the climactic resolution of the story is satisfying and believable.
To reveal more details about the story or the complications Sheila faces would spoil readers’ experience. There are many shocking plot developments, many secrets revealed that propel the action forward, numerous supporting characters who figure prominently in Sheila’s life and inform her coming-of-age. The Rhythm of Secrets is an exquisitely told story of one woman’a triumph over the most devastating kinds of adversity, made possible through faith, belief, and her own stubborn refusal to forget the lessons instilled in her by her parents. After all, her Maman named her Sheba after the Old Testament queen and no matter what other names she came to be known by, she succeeded in clinging to her original identity, drawing strength from the love she experienced during the early years of her childhood, as well as from the God she came to know as an adult.
The Rhythm of Secrets receives my highest recommendation.