Sunday, September 2, 2018

Lisa Patton takes on Ole Miss Greek traditions in 'Rush'

Author Lisa Patton ("Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter," "Yankee Doodle Dixie" and "Southern as a Second Language") joined a sorority while studying at the University of Alabama. She and her "sisters" loved the house staff, those women who cooked their meals and cleaned their bathrooms.

"As a college student it never once crossed my mind, and I'm betting it never crossed the minds of other sorority girls, to ask if these women had healthcare or retirement benefits," she writes in the back of her latest novel, "Rush." "After all, House business was none of our business."

Later, when Patton attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new sorority house, she was both amazed at the luxury of the mansion and learning that staff had no health insurance, despite the fact that students in SEC sororities now pay as much as $7,600 per semester and providing staff members with health insurance might only raise their fees as low as $15 per month.

"I learned this was not only true at my sorority house, but at the majority of sorority and fraternity houses on campus," she writes. "And not just at Alabama, but all over the South and possibly the country."

At the time of her writing "Rush," there was also no African American House Directors of National Panhellenic Sororities in the SEC.
Lisa Patton

Which is how "Rush" came to be. The story follows several narrators, two girls rushing the fictional Alpha Delta Beta at Ole Miss, the mother of one of those girls who's talked into serving on the Rush Advisory Board and Miss Pearl, the housekeeper who's been at the sorority for 25 years, has no health insurance and makes $11.50 an hour but is beloved by all. The nemesis of all four women is Lilith Whitmore, a wealthy woman who's appointed sorority House Corp President and determined to have her way in all things, including getting her daughter a bid to Alpha Delta at all costs.

The book follows the two women as they go through rush, hoping for a bid to a sorority, and the mothers' experiences during it all. Meanwhile, Pearl's dear friend Fee becomes ill — she has no health insurance either — and a promotion prospect arises, one that's difficult for Pearl to obtain due to Lilith's insistence on her having a college degree, which is really an excuse to keep the status quo. Pearl is like a second mother to the girls and they rally to her defense, a move that may change Alpha Delta forever.

On one hand, "Rush" feels like "The Help" visits sorority row, where despite the inclusive narratives the white characters are the ones who save the African American help. However, Pearl never comes across helpless and it's her defiance that spurs the sorority girls into action. The novel also examines white sorority life from the inside and we, as readers, get to view the good and the bad with justice finding a place in a system too long overdue for an overhaul.

Patton has her reasons for writing "Rush" and one can hope that sorority girls reading this novel will examine their own feelings about the status quo and what needs to be changed.

Patton will sign books in Mississippi at 5 p.m. Sept. 5 at Lemuria Books in Jackson, 5 p.m. Sept. 6 at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, noon Sept. 7 at Reed's GumTree Bookstore in Tupelo and 5 p.m. Sept. 7 at Square Books in Oxford, among many other stops. Patton will also be at the Louisiana Book Festival on Nov. 10. For a full list of her events, click here.

Louisiana Book News is written by award-winning author Chere Dastugue Coen, who writes Louisiana romances and mysteries under the pen name of Cherie Claire. Her first book in each series is FREE to download as an ebook, including "Emilie," book one of The Cajun Series, "Ticket to Paradise," book one of The Cajun Embassy series and "A Ghost of a Chance," the first Viola Valentine mystery.

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