Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Doubleday Books for providing this DRC in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: southernisms.

Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars


As a southern transplant, when I saw this book, I knew I had to give it a read to educate myself better on the Southern lady ways. I already picked up on a few things, including “Bless your heart” meaning, “you silly fool.” When Doubleday approved my request, I squeaked with excitement, finished up a handful of books I was reading, and then dove right in.

It took me two days to zip through Southern Lady Code, and I had to physically restrain myself from laughing as I read at work (my day job has been slow this week- I work in turns of hurry up  and wait). Ellis was born and raised in Alabama, who then went on to attend college in Colorado before officially moving to NYC. Pulling lessons from her southern roots, she gives the reader a collection of short essays about how to respect the Southern Lady Code, and what the meaning behind certain terms and phrases translate to. As the cover of her book states:

Southern Lady Code: noun. A technique by which, if you don’t have something nice to say, you say something not-so-nice in a nice way.”

I wish I could quote the plethora of additional phrases for you, as I highlighted and noted so many that made me laugh or nod in a “ah-ha!” way, but I’d be spoiling many of the chapters within. The stories she told surrounding those phrases were so honest and relatable, and more often than not, I found myself wanting to take notes so that I too could behave like a southern lady. Keeping the house spotless a-la Marie Kondo instead of being messy, or writing thank you notes for any occasion in which you wish to expect gratitude- those are things that abide The Code.

Ellis writes in an effortlessly clever style, with charm and humor that makes the reader feel as if you were having a conversation. She sets up each chapter with a statement that pulls you in, then keeps you hanging on every word so as not to miss the punchline or the lesson of her statement. She’s also very confessional in a subtle way, giving glimpses of her most private experiences. I admired that she didn’t put on a facade to make herself seem like the perfect example of a Southern Lady, but outwardly admitted her faults and struggles, then revealed how she faced them.

Ellis has created a new fan, and I am eager to get my hands on a copy of this book- not only to share with friends, but to flag up for inspiration on how to be a supportive friend, a “best guest” at events, and when to know how to splurge on an investment piece for my wardrobe… as well as use the proper vernacular in my Kentucky home.

Published: April 16, 2019

Publisher: Doubleday Books

TL/DR: Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis is a humorous memoir and reference guide to living as a southern woman.

Read it? Yes!! It’s hilarious!!

Recommend it? Yes, to pretty much everyone I know.

Buy it? Yes, as this book has so much information that you’ll want to reference later!

If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:

  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham
  • What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman

Categories: Book Review, Culture, Humor, Memoirs, Nonfiction

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