A Novel

Title Details

Pages: 320

Trim size: 5.500in x 8.500in



Pub Date: 09/01/2015

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8317-4

List Price: $27.95

Related Subjects

FICTION / General


A Novel

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  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Awards

Finalist for the 2017 SIBA Southern Book Prize

In April 1912 in Hampton, Virginia, white eighteen-year-old reporter Charles Mears covers his first murder case, a trial that roiled racial tensions. An uneducated African American girl, Virginia Christian, was tried for killing her white employer. "Virgie" died in the electric chair one day after her seventeenth birthday, the only female juvenile executed in Virginia history.

Charlie tells the story of the trial and its aftermath. Woven into his narrative are actual court records, letters, newspaper stories, and personal accounts, reflecting the arc of history in characters large and small, in events local and global. Charlie falls in love with Harriet, a girl orphaned by the murder; meets Virgie's blind attorney George Fields, a former slave; and encounters physician Walter Plecker, a state official who pursues racial purity laws later emulated in Nazi Germany.

There is much to admire in the pages of Forsaken, especially the vivid sense of time and place, Hampton Roads after the Civil War and Reconstruction. The novel's premise is ambitious, its events striking and tragic, and fiction and nonfiction are deftly blended in this powerful read on the themes of injustice, corruption, and racial conflict set in the poisonous epoch known as Jim Crow.

In 1912, a sixteen-year-old African American girl, Virginia Christian, was convicted by a jury of her 'peers,' twelve white men, of murdering her employer, a white woman. The jury took only 30 minutes to decide her fate-death in the electric chair. The case was tried in Hampton, Virginia, and is reminiscent of the George Stinney case, thirty-two years later, in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Ross Howell Jr.'s historical novel, Forsaken, shows the reader the breadth and depth of racial hatred that we continue to live with in the 21st century.

—Joyce Hansen, author of I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly

Forsaken is a fine first novel by Ross Howell Jr. Its rich textures and nuanced characters make Forsaken far more than simply a "message novel." A master of historical scene-setting, Howell is deft in evoking life a century ago in Hampton, Va. But with narrative points ranging from racial injustice and child sexual abuse to the vulnerability of gay people and the Dr. Mengele-like activities taking place at a state mental facility, Forsaken also channels a distinctly modern sensibility.

—Magazine of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

A story unearthed from old newspapers, a searching look at the facts, eloquent testimony and behind-the-scenes evidence: Forsaken is the fair trial Virginia Christian never had, in which the innocent are justly treated, the guilty finally charged. Ross Howell captures the atmosphere of early 20th-century Hampton, Virginia, from courthouse to countryside, as vividly as he does its seething, racial inequities. An unforgettable debut novel.

—Gina Webb, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Howell knows how to hold readers' attention, and Christian's story is an important reminder of the horrors of Jim Crow.

—Laurie Muchnick, Kirkus

The fiction of good storytellers can get at some of the barren heartache and injustice behind those old Jim Crow stories as well as the brand new Jim Crow stories of massacres and 'legal homicides' showing up in our newspapers at the beginning of another century, the twenty-first. Travel back a hundred years or so in Ross Howell Jr.'s literary page-turner, Forsaken, and see as if we are there-through a young reporter's eyes-how we struggle as human beings to wean ourselves from bigotry.

—Clyde Edgerton, author of The Night Train

This riveting first novel, inspired by real events, tells a harrowing tale of an honorable man in a dishonorable world. Forsaken is superior historical fiction detailing a cruel national past and a young man who follows his conscience.

—Julie Eakin, Foreword Reviews

Forsaken is a powerful and moving story that has the heart and wisdom of To Kill a Mockingbird, and displays a reverential embrace of history reminiscent of Faulkner's best.

—Rashad Harrison, author of The Abduction of Smith and Smith

Forsaken is a solid entry into the Southern canon. Charged, exciting fiction.

—The Daily South

Filled with the voices and lives of what Flannery O'Connor called 'good country people,' both black and white, Ross Howell Jr.'s Forsaken is swift and unexpected medicine, just the kind required to break the spell of an entire society built on crimes against humanity.

—Don Wallace, author of The French House: An American Family, A Ruined Maison, and the Village That Restored Them All

A haunting, riveting work of historical fiction concerning a sixteen-year-old black girl convicted in thirty minutes by a jury of twelve white men and sentenced to a brutal execution in the summer of 1912. Southern history-as palpable as the oak-handled electric chair that had to be modified to fit the small frame of Virginia Christian-casts a long shadow in Ross Howell's fast-paced novel, raising very contemporary questions about the racial politics of justice.

—Minrose Gwin, author of The Queen of Palmyra

Ross Howell Jr. takes an honest and riveting look at all the ugly aspects of racism at work in the U.S. in the beginning years of Jim Crow. A starkly realistic, gripping tale.


Tragic as the events that unfold in Forsaken may be, the story Charlie Mears tells is one of love, redemption, and hope.

—Deep South Magazine

Forsaken adroitly weaves fact and fiction to tell a complex tale, with fully imagined scenes, characters, and themes [that] resonate surprisingly in the supposedly more enlightened world of 2016.

—Montgomery Advertiser

Not since Atticus Finch have we met a character spun from the threads of integrity as beautifully as Charlie Mears in Ross Howell Jr.'s exquisite novel, Forsaken. Set in the early 1900s in Virginia, it's the tale of an honorable young newspaper reporter who befriends an African American girl facing the electric chair for murder. A deep and powerful discourse on racism and redemption, Forsaken and the characters who live and breathe within its pages will not be soon forgotten.

—Jennie Fields, author of The Age of Desire

The reader will long remember this novel from which we all can learn about a painful part of our heritage. Ross Howell Jr. writes very well and so brings an important period in our history to life. Forsaken is a powerful book.

—Michael Thomason, Lagniappe

News & Record says Forsaken by Ross Howell is more than a book-it's a book and a half.

—Greensboro News & Record

In Forsaken, Ross Howell Jr. has vividly recreated a sensational crime firmly rooted in history. His depiction of both time and place-and the racial tensions of a torn society-are drawn with great expertise and insight.

—Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

Terse, forceful, stirring, Forsaken took me in its grip and shook me like a rag doll in the maw of a mastiff. Some of its themes are injustice, corruption, and racial conflict, but in its purest terms Ross Howell Jr.'s debut novel is about good and evil. Open Forsaken-and hold on tight.

—Fred Chappell, author of I Am One of You Forever

Haunting, riveting, Forsaken has the heart and wisdom of To Kill a Mockingbird.

—Bill Maher, bookseller, The Country Bookshop

Forsaken tells the story of Charlie Mears, a white reporter, who covers the story of a young black woman tried, convicted, and executed for the murder of a white woman in 1912. Ross Howell Jr. writes with a precise knowledge of the facts and sympathy for the characters in their time and place. He has constructed an intricate, ambitious novel readers will admire for its subtlety and grace.

—Kent Nelson, author of The Spirit Bird

Ross Howell Jr. skillfully weaves a tapestry of real news articles, court records, letters, and other historical documents throughout his fictionalized account. This powerful work of historical fiction follows the trial of an adolescent black housemaid for the murder of her white employer in the Jim Crow South.

—starred review, Shelf Awareness

An example of historical fiction at its best-and proof that such fiction sometimes can reveal truth to greater effect than journalism or history-Forsaken generates anger, and pity, and ultimately hope. And it will leave you in awe of Howell's deft hand in rendering a story of the benighted past that finds resonance in the present.

—Richmond Times-Dispatch


Book of the Year Award, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance


Indies of the Year, Foreword Reviews

About the Author/Editor

ROSS HOWELL JR. earned an MFA in the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, and then pursued a career in marketing and publishing. His fiction has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Sewanee Review, Gettysburg Review, and other publications. He has also taught essay writing, fiction writing, and literature at Harvard University, Simmons College, the University of Iowa, the University of Virginia, and Elon University. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. Forsaken is his first novel.