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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Valentine’ a vivid look at racism, classism, and sexism in Texas heartland

Shirlene Bridgewater

Shirlene Bridgewater, a Horseshoe Bay resident and retired English teacher, recently got lost in Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut novel “Valentine,” which explores racism and classism in 1970s Odessa, Texas. Staff photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Picayune Book Nook is published monthly either online at DailyTrib.com or in The Picayune Magazine. Book lovers of all ages are invited to send their reviews of no more than 250 words to bookreview@thepicayune.com. Please include contact information. Reviewers must be Highland Lakes residents. 

“Valentine” 

Written by Elizabeth Wetmore

Published by HarperCollins, 2020

BOOK SUMMARY: Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut fictional novel, “Valentine,” explores 1970s Odessa, Texas, while delving into the complex topics of racism and classism. Laced with poetry and vivid imagery, Wetmore centers her story on the women of a region and time where and when their voices and concerns were often overlooked. 

Reviewed by Shirlene Bridgewater

Retired English teacher and Horseshoe Bay resident 

Set in West Texas — Odessa, more specifically — “Valentine” by Elizabeth Wetmore follows a heinous crime occurring among the tumbleweeds, dusty air, oil fields, and folks who live off the land. 

Wetmore introduces Gloria Ramirez, a 14-year-old who was assaulted in a nearby oil field, a tragedy that peels back layers of racism, violence, classism, and sexism. The women in the town narrate the story, each one offering a different voice and view of their lives and roles and relationships with their families and each other. 

Some chapters can stand alone as short stories, but once Wetmore skillfully weaves them together, the reader has a personal interaction with each woman, the community, and each person’s place in it.

The questions to be answered in the novel include: 

  • Will the judicial system bring justice to Gloria? 
  • Will wealth and privilege usurp truth?
  • Will one event change the life of not only the victim but also that of the townspeople in their silence as well as openness?

Kudos goes to native Texan Wetmore for her description of Odessa and the surrounding towns as she creates a character out of a land of enchantment, and desolation, with the sounds, smells, animals, and vegetation all acting as accomplices. In addition, the sequencing of the novel along with its mounting tensile strength is exceptional.

“Valentine” is a masterfully suspenseful debut that appeals to readers who love the murky space between love and hate; justice and revenge; fear and hope.

bookreview@thepicayune.com