“Friendship Cemetery” is the story of Emma Grace, a naive teen, whose perception of truth is limited by her youth, and upbringing in the very sheltered world of Columbus, Mississippi. She longs for a message from her dead father, and the acceptance of her distant and critical mother.
Emma may be unsophisticated, but she is witty and funny, with biting observations about Columbus. The city is as much a character in the novel as are the people.
The story begins with her desire to become a ghost hunter. To this end Emma spends time in the cemetery. However, she is not alone. In Friendship Cemetery she meets Princess Kamara (a dwarf), and Tyrone (a young African-American boy).
Emma’s father slipped into the Mississippi River eight months before this novel begins. Her mother, Lenora Leigh, bid him good-bye with great fanfare at a memorial service, even though there was no body.
Princess Kamara spends her time creating quirky, folk art “sculptures” from detritus found in the cemetery. Pea (her nickname) has been even less exposed to the world than Emma. However, she is perceptive and quite comical in her actions and responses to new experiences.
Both mothers reveal disappointment with their daughters. Emma cannot dress to her mother’s “Southern belle chic” standards. Pea’s mother, Olive Shelton, has hidden her from the eyes and gossip of this town. She is consumed with love for her deceased husband, Dwayne.
Tyrone fears Kamara because he claims that her family is cursed. A hurt leg leads him to introduce Emma to Althee, a healer-woman. From Althee we learn that there is a curse on the Shelton family.
Emma, Kamara, and another friend, Beau, concoct an elaborate plot to spend the night in Friendship Cemetery in an effort to find ghosts. All does not go well. They are discovered, and must face public embarrassment, the worst thing possible in the eyes of Emma’s mother.
Emma’s mother, too, has been keeping secrets. However, secrets are impossible to keep. All will be revealed.
The main theme of “Friendship Cemetery” is that truth is limited by perception and experience. In the beginning of the novel, Emma believes Pea to be a leprechaun, which she is not.
It is also about acceptance. Pea’s defects are obvious, a physical deformity. Other’s are more subtle. Flaws such as superficiality, blind judgment, and false superiority are less apparent, but still corrosive.
“Friendship Cemetery” will appeal to adult readers and mature teens. There is no graphic sex or violence.