What a Friend book cover

What a Friend ~ The Sack; Betty H. Marshall
| published December 13, 2014 |

By Lisa K. Whitten
Thursday Review contributor

The setting for Betty Marshall's novel is early 1960's in rural Alabama. What a Friend: The Sack is a glimpse of the way of life for the African Americans during segregation, a view looking from the inside out. It brought back powerful memories of a lady that nearly raised me when I was a child, and it made me wonder just what her life was like in the 1960's. There are times when the story doesn't flow smoothly, and (like many self-published efforts) there are a few spelling mistakes. But despite these issues, What a Friend kept me interested and it was hard to put down once I was hooked by the compelling story.

In the first chapter of What a Friend begins by introducing a very young Annie and her family doing ordinary chores on a hot Saturday in Alabama. The first chapter ends with a horrific rape and beating of Annie's best friend, Lola, while they are on their way to school. This creates a ripple effect of future events in the story. Aside from occasional sightings, Annie doesn't see her best friend Lola for many years.

We also meet the people in Annie's community. There is a Ku Klux Klan killing of a man. Annie's brother, whom she is very close to, is murdered. Her best friend, Lola, also loses her father through murder. During these times Annie discovers some hidden papers that explain some events but she keeps the secrets from the reader until later.

After high school graduation Annie moves in with her older sister in another town to attend college. Later, Annie is given a full scholarship, and she is able to move into a dorm on campus, which she preferred. While working a part-time job she meets her future husband, Mark, and we watch the romance of Annie and Mark. She meets Cathy, her college biology lab partner. Cathy is very standoffish towards Annie and it is clear she does not want to be friends with her. Eventually, she discovers why her lab partner does not want to be Annie's friend. But when Cathy has a medical catastrophe which very nearly takes her life, Annie is there for her; soon Cathy learns what a friend Annie truly is.  Lola, who has reappeared in Annie's life, also soon meets Cathy.

Betty Marshall's atmospheric novel truly holds the reader throughout with a story that packs a lot of emotion and a lot of description into its 235 pages.  I would read another book by this author, but I would also hope that it would flow a bit more smoothly. As for "The Sack," well, you'll have to read the book to find out about that!