Bastard Out of Carolina came out in 1992. It is Dorothy Allison's first novel and remains her most widely successful work to date. Although Allison was an established author within the gay and lesbian literary community, she gained widespread attention for this searing, semi-biographical tale of childhood abuse and struggle. The novel is based on the author's own experiences. Like Bone, the deeply troubled protagonist, Dorothy Allison was born to an unwed teenage mother who worked in a diner to support her children. Her stepfather sexually and physically abused young Dorothy for years. However, Allison's mother was ultimately unable to protect her daughter (much like Anney in Bastard Out of Carolina).
Bastard Out of Carolina received public acclaim, becoming a National Book Award finalist and a national bestseller. Critics celebrated Allison's nuanced exploration of class, gender and sexuality through her depiction of a poor family in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s. Bastard Out of Carolina is set in small-town South Carolina, where prejudice, tradition, and privilege "form a intricate lattice that restrict[s] and shape[s]" lives (Gamson 449). Over the past 20 years, critics and readers alike have celebrated Allison's unique ability to create an emotionally honest and complex story without editorializing or forcing a particular political agenda. In the his New York Times review, George Garrett called Bastard out of Carolina "close to flawless." Bastard out of Carolina has been taught in schools all across the United States, although there have been some unfortunate instances of censorship by parents and officials who find the subject matter too intense.