#Bookreview: Borders in Paradise

Writer James White

Review of Borders in Paradise

Click on image to purchase from Amazon.

James White’s Borders in Paradise opens in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow in West Hollywood, California. The year is 1939. The tiny bungalow is the Gaines family’s version of paradise, after twenty-two-year old Juno (John) and his brother Chassy (Charles) “ran away from that den of thieves and malcontents in Texas to start a new life in California”–the den of thieves and malcontents being their extended family, of course. Their mother and sister Anita (Neet) join them shortly thereafter. 

The novel is divided into four parts, with several changes in narrative stance to provide the reader with multiple perspectives on the Gaines family dynamics and the brothers’ coming-of- age struggles.

Part I is narrated in first-person, alternating between Juno and Chassy. Given the resentment Juno expresses toward his “tall, blond, and handsome” younger brother, alternating first-person narration between the two of them was a wise choice on White’s part. Is Chassy as irresponsible and selfish as Juno says, or does the root of Juno’s discontent really lie elsewhere? 

Chassy immediately gets himself ensnared in an ill-advised marriage with a young woman from a well-to-do family who works hard to smooth over his Texas roughness. When Chassy realizes that she has had an ulterior motive from the start, he reacts badly and has to beat feet out of town. He joins the US Border Patrol, where he is blown far from paradise to the Arizona desert.

Parts II and III are in third-person from Chassy’s point of view. He is referred to in these two sections as Charles, reinforcing the need–if not his own desire–to extricate himself from his youthful mistakes and forge some kind of future for himself. By the end of Part III, the Draft Board and another ill-advised encounter with a woman put that future in question. Part IV is narrated by Juno in first-person to bring the novel full-circle to its surprising and satisfying conclusion. 

Ultimately, Borders in Paradise is a novel about belonging and personal identity, with family, lovers, and even the government all working to make us over into someone we’re not sure we want to be. The question is, when we finally come to that realization, will it be too late? In the case of the Gaines brothers, you will have to read the book to find out. I would strongly encourage you to do so! 

From the Author

As for inspiration, Borders in Paradise was inspired by a collection of family letters, spanning from 1905 to a few years after 1947 when I was born. I found them while cleaning out my father’s apartment after he died. 511 letters all in a jumble, stuffed into grocery sacks. I spent two years organizing them, then annotating and finally transcribing every hand-written line to digital files. It was a transforming experience learning about my father’s family and getting familiar with everyday life on ranch land in central Texas during the depression.

Most of Borders in Paradise is fictional, but my father and his brother did run away to California as boys and later encouraged their sister and mother to join them. All of the major segments in the story are based on actual events I either heard about around the dinner table or gleaned from the letters.

Currently, I’m writing a prequel to Borders in Paradise, covering the boys’ early years in Texas and their trip to California.


108 thoughts on “#Bookreview: Borders in Paradise

          1. I know how tempting it is, in the heat of battle, to chuck everything. I’m glad my extended family in Texas didn’t make the same decision. Or my father for that matter. I only have a handful of letters from my grandmother. The few that survived are precious because she was a very imaginative writer, but I fear my father chucked them for personal reasons. He married five times.

            Liked by 1 person

  1. Sounds quite intriguing, Liz. I admire anyone who manages to write from different points of view. By the way, I like the “den of thieves and malcontents” reference.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Pete. I admire that ability as well. I’ve tried over the years but haven’t been quite able to pull it off. I thought readers would appreciate “den of thieves and malcontents.” It’s a great line.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Liz,

    It’s still an excellent review and I’m grateful to be the recipient!

    Best, Jim Made Up Stories

    On Wed, Jan 13, 2021 at 7:01 AM Elizabeth Gauffreau wrote:

    > Liz Gauffreau posted: ” Review of Borders in Paradise James White’s > Borders in Paradise opens in a one-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow in West > Hollywood, California. The year is 1939. The tiny bungalow is the Gaines > family’s version of paradise, after twenty-two-year old J” >

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I echo Dave Astor’s response to your review Liz, thus so to just now having placed an order for a paperback copy with Amazon. Having lived in West Hollywood on Alta Loma Rd, back in 1982 when I first arrived in California from Montreal, I’ve no doubt James White’s book will stir up fond memories of my near 5 years adventure in that part of my life.
    I am most thankful for your review, as I’m sure Mister White must be, and look forward to reading his book!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Robbie! I’d encourage you to go with the historical family drama without the paranormal elements. I think you’ll enjoy the challenge of character motivation coming from the family’s past history with each other, current interactions, and reaction to what is happening in the culture during that historical period.


  4. The setting and the historical time are enough to intrigue me! And the themes of belonging, identity, and transformation would make it an even more interesting read. Thanks for this review, Liz.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The effort of sorting, transcribing, and organizing the family letters to write a novel is admirable. A wonderful to preserve the family legacy based on the facts even though it’s written as fiction. Thank you for sharing the review, Liz!

    Liked by 4 people

          1. I know, Liz. I wouldn’t have patience to transcribe that many. I might have if I had to do it 30 years ago, before the technology made everything instant. I don’t type my comment anymore, just swipe the autotype.

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Imagine both Lincoln’s mother and stepmother walked him nine miles each way to take him to school!
                We’ll, as late as 40 years ago when I came to the US as a student, I used the manual typewriter to do my papers!

                Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the themes of identity, family, and belonging, Liz. This wouldn’t be a natural choice of reads for me, but it does sound well-crafted. The author’s note about how the story came about is fascinating. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re welcome, Diana! Thank you for reading and commenting. Since becoming part of the blogging community, I’ve been fascinated by the way people are drawn to different types of fiction–both what they like to read and what they like to write. I was introduced to literary fiction in the 9th grade with William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” and it’s been my go-to ever since, although I’ll read mysteries for entertainment.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m fascinated by the same, Liz. It’s so interesting how unique we all our. It would be a great question to ask bloggers… the early influences on our reading preferences. My dad was a huge sci-fi/fantasy reader and had hundreds of paperbacks. We spent every summer in a cabin without electricity. The only thing to do was read. AND, I remember being “forced” to read Barn Burning in school. Your comment made me laugh. I haven’t read Faulkner since. LOL

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Oh, early influences would be a good question to ask bloggers! It would make a fascinating series. No one in my family read sci fi/fantasy. My dad read mostly history and political novels. He loved telling “character”-based stories, which my brother inherited. Reading “Barn Burning” in the ninth grade was a seminal moment in my life. I was forced to read The Hobbit the same year, which I absolutely hated!!

          Liked by 2 people

  7. Liz, an excellent and detailed review of an extraordinary family tale. I’m taken with the fact/fiction elements of the novel and how wonderful that the letters etc inspired James to write the book! The various POV is a fascinating and good use of swapping between first and third to gain some distance and perspective. His prequel sounds equally interesting. I’ll definitely add this to my books to read!

    Liked by 2 people

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