The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
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Well-told Southern tale touches on suicide, alcoholism.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Facts about Civil War history, the cultural and geographical history of her family's town in Tennessee,  the Vietnam War, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the history of local indigenous people. Some literary terms about storytelling. 

Positive Messages

Truth is powerful, and it prevails. One stitch at a time, and soon you'll have a whole sweater. Most of our heroes have flaws and complications. Loyalty is important, but so is honesty. Kindness is the root of activism. Ask for help when you need it. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

When Lyndie discovers that the adults in her life are flawed and need help, the pastor at her religious day school sees behind her anger and tries to open up communication with her family. This eventually works, but only when things are so desperate in Lyndie's home that the adults in her family finally seek help. Lyndie is caught between two generations of adults: her grandparents, who are very much tied to their family history, and her parents, who are called "hippies" and "commies" by Lyndie's classmates.


Lyndie has a history of getting into physical fights with other kids, and even breaks a boy's nose. Sometimes she thinks her grandmother will slap her in the face. Lyndie's father has a gun and shoots it -- including a failed attempt at shooting himself. Boys at D.B.'s reform school have been beaten badly by the adults in charge or so mistreated that they died. An adult veteran dies by suicide. A character commits arson.


"Damn," "sucks," "ass-backwards," "hell," "jackass."


Brand names and pop culture references for '80s scene setting: El Camino, Bayer, Lucky Charms, Hostess, Tootsie Pops, La-Z-Boy, Sonny and Cher, Bell Telephone, Big League Chew, Parkay margarine, Jujubes, Newsweek, Cadillac, Coke, Fritos, Aqua Velva, ACLU, Vanderbilt University.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lyndie's father struggles with alcoholism and drinks whiskey from a flask and from a bottle. He drives while intoxicated, shoots a gun when he's drunk, and comes home drunk, strung out, looking like a vagrant. His withdrawals are described -- and felt -- by Lyndie, who doesn't completely know what's going on for the majority of time but eventually puts it all together.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that suicide, alcoholism, family strife, and keeping up appearances are themes in The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins. Though the story takes place in the mid-1980s, 11-tear-old Lyndie's dad is having waves of grief as a reaction to losing a friend who served with him in the Vietnam War more than 10 years before. Lyndie's family lives in a conservative town in Tennessee, ruled with an iron fist by Lyndie's grandmother "Lady," who has slapped Lyndie in the past and has washed her mouth out with soap before. A boy staying with Lyndie's friend Dawn has come from a reform school where "boys have died." Because of Lady's desperate attempts to keep up with society, Lyndie's family is unable to get the help they need, until an adult in her family assaults a boy and the police are called. 

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What's the story?

In THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by newcomer Gail Shepherd, 11-year-old Lyndie starts the school year unpacking boxes at her grandparents' house. Her dad hasn't been working since he was laid off, and her mom has been lying in bed with headaches for weeks. The bills can't be paid that way, so Lyndie and her folks move in with Grandma Lady and Grandpa Tad Hawkins, old guard members of the founding families of this town called Love's Forge. Though Lyndie can only guess at what is going on with her parents, she feels the stress of living under the strict rule of her grandmother, whose high expectations of Lyndie don't fit with Lyndie's tomboy lifestyle. As things with her dad get worse, a new kid at school inspires Lyndie to take a different view of her situation, and Lyndie begins to understand the nature of conflict, the effects of war, and how she fits into her own family. 

Is it any good?

This richly crafted tale in the Southern tradition delicately peels back layers of family and social history. Those who haven't been raised with a conscious display of their lineage for the community to see may not understand the pressure that's put on families to maintain the veneer of propriety. In The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins, Lyndie's father's struggles as a Vietnam veteran begin to seep out, and the old guard, represented by matriarch Lady Hawkins, is not happy about it.

What's masterful about this story is the way Lyndie, the tween observer, puts together the pieces of family and community history. All of the pain and consequent damage control affect her the way a kid would be affected: It gnaws at her, and she acts out. She's not able to name the problems directly, but she susses them out with the wisdom of a child. Kids will appreciate her survival strategies and her rebellious bursts, and may also enjoy the humor and sadness that D.B., the new kid, provides. After all, life is not black and white -- there are a lot of gray areas and muddy patches to be explored.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about mental illness and alcoholism as it plays out in The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins and in media. What kinds of clues does Lyndie get about her dad's problem? How can kids cope when an adult drinks too much?

  • D.B. shoots for perfect grades at a tough school so he won't be sent back to a dangerous reform school. How does he cope with the pressure? How much pressure to do well is there at your school? How do your classmates cope with stress?

  • Lyndie's grandmother is very aware of how people perceive the Hawkins family. How important is your family's reputation and standing in your community? Is it a thing? Or is it no big deal? Why or why not?

Book details

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For kids who love family stories and coming-of-age tales

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