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Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Literary fiction



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by Elizabeth Wetmore
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Quick take

A brutal crime divides the strong-willed women of a Texas oil town in this profoundly feminist account of survival.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_HeavyRead

    Heavy read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unlikeable

    Unlikeable narrator

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence


It’s February 1976, and Odessa, Texas, stands on the cusp of the next great oil boom. While the town’s men embrace the coming prosperity, its women intimately know and fear the violence that always seems to follow.

In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.

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Why I love it

I discovered Valentine when a friend, who is a bookseller by trade, recommended it to me. From the beginning, I was drawn to the book’s setting: a western corner of my home state of Texas. I also immediately felt my heritage in this novel, even glimpsing my grandma Jenna—a homemaker who never graduated from college but taught me every constellation in the sky—in the women of Valentine. But you don’t have to be from Texas to fall in love with this stunning debut.

The story is told through five dynamic female voices. They, along with the rest of their town of Odessa, are grappling with a tragic act of violence against a young Hispanic girl. There’s the indomitable (and grumpy!) Corinne Shepherd, who is mourning the loss of her beloved husband. There’s her precocious 10-year-old neighbor, Debra Ann, who forms an unlikely friendship after her mom leaves. Then there are the other characters who make up this flinty cast of women who must forge alliances and create boundaries to survive in this dusty oil town. They are complicated, complex; flawed yet striving to be better for each other.

I was hooked from the heart-pounding first scene. I finished it in a single sitting. In a time when we all need an escape, this beautiful story of justice, redemption, grace, and strength will arrest and transport you.

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