Sullivan's Island is a real place, a barrier island seven miles off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. Home to Fort Moultrie, which is known for its role in the American Revolution and the Civil War, it is also called the "Ellis Island of Slavery" as over 200,000 slaves from the west coast of Africa entered our country on its shores between 1770 and 1775. As a young soldier, Edgar Allen Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie and wrote The Gold Bug during that time. It is said the island is a haunted place, populated with the ghosts of broken hearts and lives of untold courage.
Dorothea Benton Frank's first novel, Sullivan's Island combines the stories of love and family with history and place. Set in 1963 and in 1999, it compares and contrasts coming of age in the tumultuous early sixties to coming of age in the peace of the early nineties. It introduces the Gullah Culture to many people for the first time and explains its significance in forming the traditions and values of the island children, which they carry into their adult lives. Sullivan's Island looks at the rigors of Catholicism during the early sixties, shattered childhood innocence, betrayal and revenge and the magic of Lowcountry life.
The protagonist, Susan Hamilton Hayes is in her early forties when we meet her. She is the wife of Tom, a prominent Charleston attorney and the mother of their daughter, Beth. In the prologue, we watch her life implode and then watch and learn how she puts it back together with great humor and pure grit.
We travel back with her to revisit the bitter disappointments of her childhood until she discovers decades later that those juvenile conundrums and challenges gave her the strength to face her adult years. And, most of those lessons were taught to her by Livvie Singleton, an African American woman, descended from slavery.
The Lowcountry itself as important as any character in Sullivan's Island, because its rich history and great beauty teach all the characters who they are and where they belong on the planet. Perhaps most importantly, the Lowcountry and the night sky of Sullivan's Island guide the characters to connect with the spiritual side of life and show them that love never dies.