A Good Girl Reviews
Loss, suffering and grace enrich the soul of A Good Girl
by Jim Fraiser
For the Sun Herald
One of the great pleasures of reviewing books is that of discovering rare jewels, especially those written by up-and-coming Mississippi writers.
One of 2017’s best will surely be A Good Girl by Ocean Springs author Johnnie Bernhard, who as much as any writer since Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy, offers a breathtaking tour of the human heart in conflict with itself, desperately searching for grace and redemption in the face of unremitting loss.
Bernhard’s is a story of a troubled family of Irish descent, whose forebears survived centuries of British-enforced “servitude and ethnic cleansing,” only to endure a diseased “coffin ship” trip to America. But historical suffering only sets the stage for Bernhard’s modern tale seen through the eyes of Biloxi resident, Gracey Mueller Reiter, who feels the guilt of not having supported her deceased mother and father as she should have when they were living and dying.
“My dad died last night,” Bernhard has Reiter say. “All I could think of is how much more I should have loved him, and stayed with him to the end. I left my father alone to die … in his shame and loneliness.”
Reiter knows she served her mother in much the same manner: “I saw her sitting alone and worried,” Reiter confesses. “I knew her pain and walked away from it.”
Sadly, this is a universal story, one that reminds us that we all suffer irredeemable loss and having no way to redeem ourselves with those we failed, we must seek redemption elsewhere.
Lest you think that reading this novel is a form of suffering in itself, or if you’re accustomed to thriller novels and believe this is very far from your thing, remember that few writers share this rising author’s capacity for living, breathing prose that oozes the very substance of humanity from every pore.
Bernhard’s sentences are filled with the stuff of what blues and country music singers refer to as “soul” and “high lonesome.” She begins this novel with the poignant phrase, “I am lost,” and soon notes that Reiter’s father was “the last of a chaotic gene pool, with one leg left and a body oozing with cancer.”
She even uses scene-setting description to further elucidate Reiter’s inner turmoil: “But as the sun climbed higher in the sky, the day with all its expectations and disappointments was rising around her as the traffic increased on the (Biloxi Bay) bridge.”
As with all novels painting our communal suffering on recognizable canvases, there is a silver lining to every well-drawn cloud — if we have the patience to discover it. As Reiter’s priest reminds her, “Confession is not a torture chamber. You should look at it as a second baptism.”
Even Bernhard’s choice of artists for her book’s cover art — oft-awarded Mississippi painter Grady Byrd of Ocean Springs —only serves to prepare the reader for a heart-warming story of redemption that he or she will remember long after Easter, St. Patrick’s Day and Passover have given way to the dog days of summer.
A GOOD GIRL by Johnnie Bernhard Publisher: Texas Review Press (March 28, 2017) Represented by Loiacono Literary Agency https://loiaconoliteraryagency.com/authors/johnnie-bernhard/
Upon my first reading, I connected spiritually with Gracey. What she went through, I’ve been through four times. It does not get easier. It is not until someone dies do you see the depth of their being. Reading my father’s journal, going through his papers, allowed me to see him for someone other than just my daddy. Gracey goes through this while reading her family history in her great-great-grandmother’s Bible. The past and the present collide inside and all around Gracey, exposing long-hidden secrets, reasons for things she never understood, and most importantly, why the madness must stop here. Forgiveness and redemption only come with a change of heart. This is a book everyone, men and women, should read. If your parents are still with you, open a dialogue and then LISTEN. If they are not, know they did their best. Love them for who they were and forgive everything. A Good Girl will help with all that and more.
- CJ Loiacono
I have found Johnnie Bernhard’s book, A Good Girl, to touch a powerful chord in my heart. Masterfully written with deep insight into the journey of family and forgiveness, I’m a better person for having read this book.
- Cynthia Garrett, author of The Prodigal Daughter, Cynthia Garrett Ministries, The London Sessions & The Mini Sessions (airing regularly on TBN Network worldwide) cynthiagarrett.org/#home
When we think of our family circle, there are so many words that can be spoken about the circle of life that formed us. Ms. Bernhard’s book brings the story of family “full circle” reflecting on what matters most, at the end of this life here on earth—love and forgiveness. I was deeply touched by this family’s journey of healing— a journey we all inevitable seek to experience with someone in our family.
- Shari Black, 20 + Year Executive in the Hollywood Entertainment Industry
A beautiful debut novel across oceans and time, with a clear, objective yet poignant Southern voice. A timeless voice much like Doctorow’s Ragtime, A Good Girl is a true Southern American story. A story of one family spanning generations, dealing with love and loss, despair, and redemption, that leaves its readers with a timeless lesson.
- Kathryn Brown Ramsperger, Author of The Shores of Our Souls and Moments on the Edge, CEO and Owner, Ramsperger Communications, Former journalist with National Geographic Society, Former Director of Publications, International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva, Switzerland
A Good Girl is a raw, real, and relatable gift to the soul on every level. Ms. Bernhard’s writing is so descriptive, reading this book is truly a visceral experience. One cannot help but reflect on their own family legacy and life journey. Prepare to be riveted by this heartbreaking, yet healing story about family, self-discovery and learning how to love.
- Eva Steortz owner, Vita Creativa, a twenty-year veteran of entertainment marketing for The Walt Disney Company, and author of From the Outhouse to the Mouse House, Crap You Need To Know for a Dream-Come-True Career
A family tree comes alive through deft storytelling in Johnnie Bernhard’s debut novel, A Good Girl. The novel unfolds in a series of intimate vignettes that swirl around you like a warm embrace. From South Texas to Ireland to the Mississippi coast, the scenes sweep back and forth between generations of hardworking people trying to survive in a world filled with joy, sorrow, and morsels of hope. At the heart of this story is Gracey Mueller Reiter, a fifty-two-year-old wife and mother who must face her flawed father’s death while finding herself caught between her big brother, Tom, and her younger sister, Angela. All three siblings have different viewpoints and memories growing up in a troubled household. Relatable and real, A Good Girl speaks to the heart of what it means to be human; that generations come and go, but love binds us together.
- Kathleen M. Rodgers, author of The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately, and Seven Wings to Glory