Doll-baby by Laura Lane McNeal

Doll-baby portrays New Orleans at a time of the Civil Rights Movement in the summer of 1964 through the eyes of a twelve-year-old, Liberty Bell. 

After the death of her father, Liberty was unceremoniously left in the care of her grandmother she had not met who lives in an old Queen Anne Victorian house with black servants. Coming from the Northwest Coast, Liberty has not seen such eccentricities like the ways of the South or her grandmother, Fannie, who sometimes gets admitted to an asylum.

Quennie, Fannie’s black cook, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Doll-baby, take to Liberty like family and introduce her to the traditions of the South along with old secrets that abound the old house in Prytania Street. In this debut novel, Liberty is confronted with her painful past, her difficult relationship with her mother, the strangeness of Fannie’s house where his father grew up and a new city on the brink of a revolution.

Laura Lane McNeal presented to me a New Orleans in another kind of light, not from generations of an old family’s saga or a stranger moving next door but through the eyes of a confused and impressionable teen just coming into her own. The quirks of the old city with its faded grandness and odd characters are juxtaposed with the gritty and simmering unrest which, undeniably and ultimately, is the core of the Southern ways.

The characters grow with you over time even the erratic ones like the old lady on roller skates. They have their charms, but for me, Quennie, and her family as well, is the heart of the book on top of being the best character in there. She just won me over with her big heart and endless patience. And apart from the turnout of Liberty’s mother, I was moved at how everything else came to end.

With contained poignancy and yet brimming with realness, Lane’s debut novel was an engaging read and I loved every minute of it.


When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places.

For fans of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and The Help, Dollbaby brings to life the charm and unrest of 1960s New Orleans through the eyes of a young girl learning to understand race for the first time.

By turns uplifting and funny, poignant and full of verve, Dollbaby is a novel readers will take to their hearts.

Title: Doll-baby
Author: Laura Lane McNeal
Genre: Young Adult, American Southern Literature, Coming of Age
Published: July 2014
Publisher: Viking Adult (Kindle)
Rating: ♨♨♨♨♨ (5 cups - Lane's portrayal of New Orleans is at once riveting and bittersweet.)