Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

Book Review: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

61oTqu9bHJL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Author: Laura Lane McNeal

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Penguin Books

  • ISBN-10: 0143127497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143127499

Amazon // Goodreads

Read an excerpt // Author Video: Behind Dollbaby


A big-hearted coming-of-age debut set in civil rights-era New Orleans—a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets

When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

My Thoughts

Have you ever had a book where you felt as if fate brought you to it? Like it was some type of divine will?  I feel as if I was destined to read Dollbaby.  Here is the story why…

For one of my Goodreads book clubs, I participated in a March buddy read.  Basically, you get paired up with a fellow group member, then choose a book to read together.  The easiest way to choose a book is usually to select a common book that you both share on your to-read bookshelves.  The woman I got paired with sent me a message via Goodreads.  She said that she had been scanning my to-read shelf, and was interested in reading Dollbaby.  Now, mind you that my Goodreads to-read shelf has 200+ books on it, and Dollbaby was somewhere in the 100 range on my list.  The weird part?  I had just picked up a copy of Dollbaby during one of my thrift store hauls a few days before.  If that isn’t fate, then I don’t know what is!

“Whenever there’s a loss, there’s bound to be a gain somewhere else.  You just have to know where to look for it.”


This book delves into so many tough issues: racism, mental illness, and death, just to name a few.  McNeal was able to take these issues, and string together a beautiful novel with many life lessons.

Racism is a central theme in Dollbaby.  It was definitely a culture shock for Ibby being thrown into the deep south during the mid 1960’s.  Ibby, being a white girl from the north, was ignorant to concepts of segregation and discrimination.  Along with Ibby, the readers get to experience what it meant to be black in the midst of the civil rights movement.  I found myself cringing at the incidents of racial discrimination in the novel.  I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to have to sit in the back of a bus, or to be forced to go around back at a restaurant for service. To be treated as subpar because of the color of your skin, day in and day out, must have been a heavy burden to carry.  I loved how the characters in this novel were willing to stand up for what they believed in.  I admired Dollbaby’s need to stand up for her basic human rights, regardless of the legal and even physical implications.  She wanted a better life, not only for herself, but for her daughter.  The novel also briefly touches on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public areas (restaurants, businesses, parks, theatres, etc).  Which was a huge win in the civil rights movement against segregation.  Can you tell I love history? 🙂  I love books that tackle tough subjects like racism, and use it as a tool to inform and educate.  These types of books really put things into perspective for me.

I loved that this novel took place in New Orleans.  With its culture, beautiful architecture, diversity, celebratory atmosphere, and friendly people, New Orleans has always been on my bucket list of places to visit.  Even though I have never visited New Orleans, I know McNeal’s portrayal did the great city justice, which isn’t surprising since she is a native.  Actaully, McNeal wrote Dollbaby as a tribute to New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

What I loved most about Dollbaby were the characters.  The eccentric personalities and the relationships between the characters are what makes this novel great.  McNeal created characters so vibrant that they felt real to me.  It has been a long time since I have connected with characters as deeply as I did with these characters.   As much as this is Ibby’s coming of age story, it is also Fannie’s story.  Fannie is a complex character whose past slowly unfolds over the course of the novel.  At first, it seems as if Fannie is just crazy, but as the plot thickens, we learn of the personal tragedies that haunt her.  Fannie’s hired help, Queenie and Dollbaby, are just as much apart of the journey.  They are the glue that hold Fannie together, and take part in the raising of Ibby.  The lesson here is that family is more than just blood, it’s the people who love you.  McNeal weaves a brilliant mystery that is like a slow burn.  You will keep turning the pages, desperate for more.  The plot twist at the end… left me speechless.  It is THAT good.  Trust me on this one.  You will thank me

“The house was noticeably quiet except for the oak tree in the front yard scraping against the house.  It was an eerie sound, like fingernails on a chalkboard.  Ibby listened.  She felt sure that the old tree was trying to tell her something.”


I loved this novel from start to finish, you could even say I loved it from cover to cover 🙂 I am going to venture to say this is going to be one of my favorite novels of 2016!

My Rating: 5/5 Stars!

Other books I would recommend…

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Have you read Dollbaby or any of my recommendations?  What did you take away?

About the Author


Laura Lane McNeal grew up In New Orleans where people laugh a lot, talk with their hands, love good music, good food, and will make up any excuse for a party.

After receiving two undergraduate degrees from Southern Methodist University (a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Business Administration), she went on to earn an MBA from Tulane University. She spent most of her career in advertising, working for firms in New York and Dallas, before returning to New Orleans where she started her own marketing consulting firm and became a free-lance writer as well as a decorative artist. In 2005, when the devastation of Hurricane Katrina left her with having to rebuild her life, Laura seized the opportunity to fulfill her lifetime dream of becoming a writer. She hasn’t stopped since.

Laura resides in New Orleans and is married with two sons. DOLLBABY is her first published novel. She is presently working on a second novel.





20 thoughts on “Book Review: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal”

  1. Amanda
    I love that Goidreads offers a way for readers to connect with each other which is what led you to read Dollbaby. Thank you for this heartfelt review. I’m so glad you captured the essence of what I was trying to say in the book. I am most humbled.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so honored that you took the time to not only read my review, but to post it to your Facebook page. My review doesn’t even begin to do your book the justice it deserves. Thank you for writing such a beautiful novel.


  2. Great review! 🙂 I’ve never read a book set in New Orleans and I think it’s such a fascinating place, so this sounds like a really interesting read. I’m a bit of a history buff too, although my knowledge of American history is a bit ropey! I’m reading ‘The Lies We Tell Ourselves’ by Robin Talley at the moment, which tackles some similar themes and is based around segregation and the integration of people of colour into white-only schools. It sounds like it would be up your street. 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My pleasure! 🙂 I think there are a couple of aspects of it that are a bit problematic, but the way that desegregation is portrayed is really interesting. Thank you! Hopefully I’ll get it up in the next week or so. :)x

        Liked by 1 person

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