29 January 2011
A Pick for Mother-Daughter (as well as Black History Month) Reading Club
The story is narrated by Cecilia "CeeCee" Honeycutt who has cared for and was embarrassed by her mentally ill mother all her young life until Camille -- 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen -- is struck dead by an ice cream truck on the last day of school in June 1967, when CeeCee is but twelve-years-old. Her traveling salesman father consents to her being taken home with Great-Aunt Tallulah ("Tootie") to Savannah for proper love and attention. Despite her only friend in her hometown being an elderly neighbor with whom she looks forward to having Sunday breakfasts and the grown-up responsibilities of cooking for herself, keeping her mother away from cooking, being the receiving end of her mother's confidences about a cheating husband and the waste of the best years of her life in cold Ohio (in both winter temperature and small-town neighbors), CeeCee still has the aspirations of a young girl -- to fit in, to be liked, to have fun. . CeeCee also can, like any 12-year-old, be thoughtlessly inconsiderate, selfishly persuasive, stubborn, naively vindictive, astonished, wonderfully accepting and recklessly adventurous, all of the potential revealing itself as she blossoms in the genuine love and warm interest of Savannah women -- of society ladies and cleaning ladies, black and white, old and old-fashioned, crazy and borderline crazy.
Being the Sixties, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr, is mentioned, but closer to home, so to speak, is the scary incident of CeeCee, Tootie's black housekeeper Oletta and Oletta's friends Nadine and Chessie being held up at knife point by a wild-eyed (read, drug-crazed) white man, saved only by Chessie swinging her bag full of chakra stones against his head. CeeCee is amazed to discover Oletta and her black friends refuse to tell anyone about the incident for fear of being disbelieved. Additionally, there's one of two feel-good moments at the end, involving a Tootie-hosted mixed-race luncheon hostile with segregationist hostility turned hilarious. The other is CeeCee's start to a new school year and a new friend her own age. It is a twelve-year-old voice in a bygone adult (almost ancient) world, making it a great vehicle for inter-generational discussion on both personal feelings and personal history, from girls and women who can remember pre-teen hopes and fears and women who lived through those tumultuous '60s.
Labels: Beth Hoffman