By: Joel F. Johnson
“Those were just the times.” That’s how Morris “Little” Nickerson has always chosen to describe the incongruities of his childhood in the segregated south. But when a call from his older sister prompts Little, who is now in his seventies, to return to his hometown of LaSalle, Georgia, he finds himself having to reexamine the childhood he's kept encased in glass all these years.
As he tries to make sense of the events of one particularly eventful summer, Little tells of Reverend Robert McAllister, the father of his best friend, who speaks the high-flown language of social change but preaches to an all-white congregation; he relates his love for the Black family maid, who is like a second mother to him but is made to sit in the back of his family’s car; he describes seeing familiar faces amongst the civil rights’ marchers who descend on the LaSalle town square, though he has been told that their protests are the work of outside agitators. Returning to a town he hasn’t seen in years, Little is forced to confront the ways in which his best friend, his father, and his fragile, often infirm, mother remain mysterious to him, and to admit that he cannot reconcile the nostalgia he feels for his naïve boyhood with the truth an old man can no longer deny.
“Never offers readers a portrait of a Southern town lurching unsteadily from the Jim Crow era to the fight for civil rights in the ’60s and of Southern families who experienced very different versions of the same events. Johnson manages to bring LaSalle and its people to life in a way that often feels revelatory. His eagle-eyed prose perfectly captures the mores and frailties of his characters and their community… An observant and immersive work about a society in flux.”
- Kirkus Reviews
"In Never, race, gender and class define roles and relationships, but love and a longing for justice provide a fuse for eruptive change. In stunning prose, Johnson has written a powerful, deeply compassionate story about compelling characters struggling with complex issues that still determine lives today. This is an old-fashioned novel, in which the quality of the language is as important as the characters and story. A very fine book.”
- Meredith Hall, author of Beneficence
“In Joel Johnson's quietly powerful, sensitively observed novel, good people are forced to make heartbreaking decisions about whom to love and stand up for in a place and time when such choices carry the risk of life-altering consequences. Johnson's elegant prose conveys with aching precision the delicate nature of human frailty. You'll want to read every word, so settle in. Never is a book to savor.”
- Catherine Armsden, author of Dream House
“One of the most moving books I have ever read, expressed in a moral language that gives humanity to the worst and best of our attempts to know and to love each other.”
- David Michaelis, author of Eleanor
“This beautifully rendered debut novel takes us deep into the life of a small southern town, a world which, as many of us know from experience, can often seem idyllic on the surface, while harboring dark and sometimes deadly secrets. Joel Johnson’s tale of segregation under siege, and of families struggling with their own private hurts, moves with a kind of unhurried grace rather than a page-turning rush. But I could not put it down. Johnson writes with nuance and heart—a storyteller at the top of his game.”
- Frye Gaillard, coauthor, The Southernization of America