THE YEAR THE COLORED SISTERS CAME TO TOWN
Southwestern Louisiana, rural Cajun country, 1957.
Vivien Leigh Dubois, a precocious and curious ten-year-old, and her family lead lives not much different from those of their ancestors. They pick and preserve figs. They practice Catholicism. They survive hurricanes. Their black housekeeper, Aussie Arceneaux, has been in their lives since Vivien Leigh’s mother was a child, and her daughter Marydale and Vivien Leigh’s seven-year-old sister Mavis are practically inseparable. But when the town of Ville d’Angelle is jolted by the arrival of two black nuns to teach at Holy Rosary, the all-white Catholic elementary school, Vivien Leigh and Mavis are exposed to a degree of hatred and fear they’d never anticipated. Vivien Leigh is confronted by the impact of race on the very fabric of society, from the most intimate to the most public.
Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town shines a powerful light on the effects of racism in a corner of Louisiana and, by doing so, illuminates the heavy price paid for bigotry. The segregation of one segment of community from another, whether that separation is the result of class or color or cultural identity, exacts a cost no one can afford.
There comes a time when you learn your world, how you will live your life, how you will fit your life into the lives of people around you. You learn where you will draw the line, what you will sacrifice and what you will protect. For me, that time came the year I was ten. From summer 1957 to the following spring, I watched as events overtook us all, my own family and others in Ville d’Angelle too. I’m not claiming to have learned nothing since I was ten. I am saying some of my greatest wisdoms came to me in that year, the year the colored sisters came to town.
Praise for The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town
“In a work of startling observation, The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town,
Jacqueline Guidry writes about the soul-destroying trauma of western Louisiana in
1957...This is a mesmerizing tale...”
“(D)eeply imagined, heartfelt and resonant....(T)he novel offers a picture of 1957
America so particularized it becomes universal. The relationship of the narrator’s family
with a black cleaning lady and her daughter offers a mirror that reflects the racial
inequality that continues today...”
“(F)or anyone who cares about family as the spur—intended or not—toward values such
as fairness, justice and racial equality, the Kansas City area author’s The Year the
Colored Sisters Came to Town is compelling, stirring and throat-tugging.”
—KANSAS CITY STAR
“An endearing chronicle of the year 1957-58, when a black nun from Brooklyn comes to
rural Louisiana to teach at a Catholic elementary school. Ten-year-old Vivien Leigh
Dubois possesses that charming provincialism common among literary children: she is by
turns ignorant, instinctively wise, and easily shocked....Guidry piles up vast heaps of
detail that ultimately reward the reader with a vivid evocation of this place, in this time.
A small story told through a girl’s widening eyes: evocative and charmingly written.”
“(B)rings a fresh new perspective to issues of race that have plagued the South for so
long....Rich with local color, The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town captures life in
rural Cajun Louisiana. Family relationships, fig preserving, preparing Thanksgiving
dinner, and finally deeply held beliefs and prejudices all converge in the life of one girl,
and her crystal clear voice echoes all the hope and innocence of the young.”
—NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE
“Guidry’s first novel woos you like a song from the mouth of babes....Guidry is honest
about the time she knows well, and she never loses Vivien Leigh’s compelling voice in
the telling of a good, poignant story. Vivien Leigh holds your hand and steals your heart
from sentence one.”
—THE SUNDAY OKLAHOMAN
“(T)he novel is written in fluid, assured prose and gracefully drives home its message:
that life is not black and white, but rather painted in shades of all colors.”
“The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town is an absorbing and important novel,
reminiscent of the best Southern literature from the mid-20th century. It is cut from the
cloth that gave us To Kill a Mockingbird and classics of that genre and proves that great
Southern literature lives yet and continues to be produced....(B)eautifully written, richly
descriptive and hauntingly memorable classic-to-be...”
—SHREVEPORT FORUM NEWS
QUESTIONS & GUIDES
This book has been a favorite of many book clubs and may work for your book club too.
1. How does Vivien Leigh change during this year of the colored sisters?
2. Who is the strongest character? Why?
3. What does the “change of life” baby symbolize? Why was she born blind?
4. What role does religion play in the book? Is there a conflict between the characters’ religion and their behavior?
5. How does class affect the characters’ behavior, especially Vivien Leigh’s father?
6. How does the weather reflect the actions in the novel?
7. Identify and discuss examples of irony.
8. How does the disintegration of Deacy’s marriage reflect what’s happening in the community as a whole?
9. If you were under the house with Mavis when Vivien Leigh pinches her, what would you tell her? How would you
Special thanks to the Hannibal Free Public Library for the following insightful questions adapted from ones compiled by Kaite Mediatore, Readers’ Services Librarian at the Main Branch of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library.
What does Guidry want the readers to know or understand at the end of her book?
Did Guidry do a good job of writing from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl in Southern rural Louisiana in the 1950s?
Which is more powerful to the people of Ville d’Angelle, religion or race?
Why does Hazey feel it is permissible for the Sisters to teach her children, but it is not acceptable for her daughter to be friends with an African-American child?
Compare Hazey and Aussie’s friendship with that of Mavis and Marydale. How do both friendships change?
What does the presence of Tante Yvette’s butterfly glass tell you about her?
Talk about the “Change of Life” babies in the story. Can the reader draw parallels between these two events, the arrival of the Sisters and Tante Deacy’s baby? How are Marydale, Willie and Angelina Christine special? What kind of changes do they promote?
Why do you think Hazey speaks “with an edge” to Aussie after Mavis, Vivien Leigh and Marydale have come home from school? What concerns Hazey about Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart Schools?
When Floyd says “turkey cooked with colored hands can’t help but bring bad luck,” Hazey gives him a disgusted look. What does this say about Hazey, who has just purchased a separate set of dishes for Aussie and Marydale? Why do you think she bought the dishes?
Talk about the relationship and trouble between Deacy and Everett. Who do you think is in the right, Deacy or Everett? Do you think they love each other? Explain Everett’s behavior and longing to leave Ville d’Angelle. Talk about Hazey and Floyd’s perceptions of the situation between Deacy and Everett.
Talk about the bet between Hazey and Floyd. What is Floyd trying to accomplish with such a bet? Why does Hazey take it? Why do they draw Vivien Leigh into it? What do you think of Vivien Leigh’s response at being told to hold the money? How does Vivien Leigh feel about the bet at the end of the school year?
What is the significance of outsiders committing the violent acts at Holy Rosary School? How does Ville d’Angelle feel about this? What does the town lose when the school burns down? Who are the greatest victims? Who do you think will ride out this situation best?
Why do you think Floyd changes his mind about letting Aussie go after the fire?
There is a recurring motif of “angels” in this book. The town is named Ville d’Angelle (Angel Village). When it rains someone says, “An angel’s crying.” Deacy’s baby is named Angelina Christine. Who are the angels in this book? Why would the author choose angels as a recurring theme?
explain the world to her?
10. Could Aussie and Hazey remain friends after the nuns leave Ville d’Angelle?
11. Could Mavis and Marydale become friends again as adults?
Honors and Awards:
Thorpe Menn Award for literary excellence sponsored by the American Association of University Women
McNaughton program selection
Pen/Faulkner Writers in Schools selection
A Best Book of the Year, Kansas City Star
United We Read book, Kansas City, MO
Community Read selection, Windsor, CT
Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award
Rainy Day Books:
Barnes and Noble: