In the summer of 1932, Jessilyn Lassiter thought she killed a man after a midnight run-in with the Ku Klux Klan. The entire town was in an uproar because the Lassiters chose to take in Gemma, a black orphan, rather than let her wander the world alone. Their decision brought no small share of trouble on their family. They have few allies in this battle, and the local law enforcement is not one of them. Jessilyn soon finds herself being harassed by one of the men she knows is part of the Klan, but does not want to tell anyone about it. To make matters worse, she also discovers that her father's farm hand may be part of the Klan as well. So much uncertainty is not healthy for a thirteen-year-old girl, for she does not know who to trust in all this deceit.
Jerry B Jenkins' Operation First Novel contest does not usually produce an Elite book at all because his judges are not seeking original plot elements but rather a professional writing style and plot development. Original plot elements must be brought to the table by the authors themselves. However, Jennifer Erin Valent is the exception to this rule because she actually as great potential as an original author. Fireflies in December is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Jessilyn, Gemma, Jessilyn's parents, and a handful of other characters are all well-developed. Jessilyn is one of the best thirteen-year-old leads I have ever read. It is especially refreshing to see that Gemma is not a perfect victim, but rather a real person. While there appears to be a cheesy villain, the villain is not who he appears to be. Racial prejudice on both sides of the issue create imperfect characters automatically. Jennifer clearly knows what she is doing when she develops her characters.
Racism in the 1930's South is one of the more interesting topics on which to base a book. Authors can not afford to be touchy-feely with this issue because they must address it head on. Jennifer crafts a plot around this issue very professionally while adding original plot elements. While there is the potential to be a romantic subplot, there is no follow through. There are many realistic events that occur throughout the plot as well. The end is imperfect as she both surprises the reader by showing a character's true colors and by refraining from fixing imperfect circumstances.
Jennifer Erin Valent, unless this is her only worthy idea, is ready to embark on a full writing career with this five star debut. As long as she does not waver from her foundation, she is a promising author of the future.