One early Sunday morning in October 1953, Belle Prater, who lives with her husband, Everett, and son, Woodrow, in an isolated holler in the Appalachians, "vanishe[s] from the face of the earth." Six months later, young Woodrow is sent to live with his mother's parents, Granny and Grandpa Ball, in Coal Station, a small mining town in Virginia. Gypsy Arbutus Leemaster, the daughter of Belle's sister Love, lives next door to the Balls with her mother and stepfather, Porter Dotson. Gypsy is twelve, the same age as Woodrow, and she is excited to become reacquainted with her cousin.
Woodrow, who has grown up in poverty, wears "hillbilly" hand-me-downs and has crossed eyes. In contrast, Gypsy has been blessed with uncommon beauty, and her family enjoys a comparatively solid level of financial security. Gypsy's life seems idyllic, except when "a certain nightmare [comes] to haunt [her]." She can never remember the details of the dream, but it involves something dead, and makes her wake up sobbing and screaming.
After Woodrow arrives, Granny tells Gypsy about their family's history. Gypsy's mother, Love, was very pretty, while her sister, Gypsy's Aunt Belle, was plain-looking, and "couldn't hold on to a boyfriend to save her soul." That changed when Love went away to college; handsome Amos Leemaster came to town and was captivated, for once, by Belle. The two were set to be married, until Love came home and stole Amos's heart away. Amos ended up marrying Love instead, and Belle was devastated. One night, soon after the wedding, Belle went out on the town, dressed "fit to kill." She ran off with Everett Prater, the first man who paid attention to her, and isolated herself from her family up in the holler, where Woodrow was born. About the same time, Gypsy was born to Amos Leemaster and Love. Amos doted on his daughter; he nicknamed her "Beauty," and made her mother promise never to cut her hair. When Gypsy was five, Amos died. Love remarried, but Gypsy resents her mother's new husband, Porter Dotson, whom she feels is trying to take her father's place.
Gypsy and Woodrow establish a comfortable rapport right away after their first meeting. Both children are outgoing and articulate and share a quick wit. Gypsy is appalled by the many small cruelties that her cousin must endure at the hands of insensitive townspeople, because of his crossed eyes and the notoriety of his mother's disappearance. When Gypsy, overcome by...
(The entire section is 2748 words.)
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Belle Prater's Boy, published in 1996, recounts the growing friendship of two first cousins—Gypsy Arbutus Leemaster and Woodrow Prater—who come to know each other after Woodrow moves in with their mutual grandparents following the mysterious disappearance of his mother, Belle. Both memorable characters learn to accept unpleasant facts that they cannot change, overcome fears, and grow in friendship and understanding in this compelling story.
(The entire section is 65 words.)