Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
CeeCee Honeycutt has spent her childhood worrying over and caring for her mentally ill mother. After her mother's tragic death, she is sent away by her emotionally distant father to live with her eccentric aunt Tootie in the luscious privilege of Savannah, Georgia.
Here, CeeCee's lonesome world becomes noisy with a cast of eccentric new friends and acquaintances. Besides her bubbly aunt, there is Ms. Goodpepper, a radiantly wild friend of Aunt Toots. Then, there is their racist busybody neighbor who has a habit of late night trysts with a local police officer. One can't forget to mention the fiery Oletta Jones, the queen of the kitchen who happens to have a soft spot in her heart for CeeCee.
CeeCee's voice is both strong and believable and carries the novel beautifully from beginning to end. Ms. Hoffman has done a wonderful job of creating a child protagonist who thinks and reacts as a child, and not as an adult written into a child's body. It's easy to feel heartache along with CeeCee as she suffers early on the trials of living alone with her mentally ill mother, and the joys of discovering a magical new life in Savannah.
Each scene moves smoothly to the other, ups and downs, comedy to tragedy, all swirling in a dazzling Southern world run completely by women. All in all the book is a lovely, smooth read which can be enjoyed not only by adults but by girls of all ages.
My main problem with the novel, however, is the character of Oletta. As lovely and caring a woman as she is, I still felt a bit soured over yet another "Mammy" caricature who hems and haws over her food, and serves mainly as the well behaved, suffering saint of the story. An interesting detour in the story does take place as we glimpse more into Oletta's world when CeeCee is taken onto outings with the beloved cook. It's a separate utopia again run by strong women, but I did find it a shame that the tradition of no positive black male characters, so common in Southern tales, continued in this novel.
Although, to be fair, there are actually no positive male characters of note in this story of any race.
The story-lines do follow a rather predictable nature. Pranks and comeuppance, themes of racism, garden parties, and dose after dose of shameless Southern quirkiness drip off each page. It makes for easy, breezy reading, but I did find myself somehow yearning for something more to elevate the three dimensional CeeCee even higher off the pages.
I do recommend this read with a whole heart, as it would be impossible not to smile while enjoying the book. I do, however, reserve myself a bit because I can't quit the nagging feeling that this somehow could have been a more complex novel. Don't let my nit-picking get you down however, because if you enjoy delightful coming of age tales with an authentic heart, you will be quite pleased with this.
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