Courtesy of Annie England Noblin
By Shannon Murff
Incorporating family recipes, rescue dogs, and small-town charm, Mississippi-born and Ozarks-raised author Annie England Noblin has crafted a therapeutic tale of love, healing, and rediscovery in her debut novel, Sit! Stay! Speak!.
The story begins with tragedy—a tragedy that spurs Addie Andrews to relocate from Chicago to the fictional town of Eunice, Arkansas, where she’s inherited her late aunt’s house, and perhaps more importantly, her recipe box. In this tiny community, Addie is faced with the difficult tasks of confronting her past and accepting her present. On top of her personal problems, she starts noticing that something sinister is unfolding in the seemingly innocent town.
It’s a lot for Addie to handle, but despite the miniscule population, she finds support in unexpected friends. A gang of locals with plenty of Southern pizazz makes for a quirky but caring group of companions. Addie finds redemption and uncovers a refreshing new culture in the Arkansas Delta with Jasper, the unnerving lawyer-turned-farmer with the gorgeous smile; Wanda, Addie’s best friend whose countless Southern idioms are often over-the-top but always endearing; Augustus, Addie’s elderly neighbor who spends most of his free time cavorting around his lawn in his skivvies; and Felix, the dog she saves from abandonment and certain death.
While at the county fair, during family dinners at Wanda’s and Jasper’s houses, and on numerous occasions in town, Addie witnesses customs and cultural norms that are wildly unfamiliar to her, but she gradually starts to feel at home in the oddball town. Annie—an Arkansas State University English instructor who lives in West Plains and holds a degree from Missouri State University—says the time she spent in Helena, Arkansas, was a major influence on the novel. She also notes that her involvement with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals played a large role in incorporating Felix and other dogs into the novel.
Just as Addie found refuge from her grief in Felix, Annie has had similar therapeutic connections with rescue animals. Although the strong-willed, caring protagonist and the author are very different, Annie admits the two share a passion for animal rights, and she adds that there are many lessons in the book that have real-world implications.
“One of the things that I hope at least some readers take out is that we desperately need tougher laws protecting animals,” Annie says.
Sit! Stay! Speak! isn’t just about animal rights activism, though. It’s a doggone good read with intriguing plot turns, lovable and quirky locals, and comforting surroundings.