It is truly a gift to read a book with so much heart. I knew I was in for a treat when Saving CeeCee Honeycutt arrived in my mailbox after I won it in a blog giveaway at Year of the Bookwormz. It came packaged with a bright orange spatula and a bag of gummy worm candy. My curiosity was piqued. I couldn't wait to see what was in store to merit such a unique pairing.
Let me tell you, author Beth Hoffman does not disappoint. The story centers around 12-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt. She loves to read. She's a straight-A student. But she doesn't have a single friend. Why? Because her mother is slowly losing her grip on reality, falling prey to mental illness. She has made the two of them the laughingstock of their small Ohio town, adorning herself in pageant gowns and smeared lipstick. Her father, a traveling salesman, is cognizant of the problem, but for the most part washes his hands of the situation. CeeCee is left alone to deal with her mother's temper tantrums, flights of fancy and reckless behavior. Tragically, the unthinkable happens when her mother is hit and killed by a truck while walking to the Goodwill store in search of yet another used prom dress.
The first part of the narrative is heartbreaking, yet gripping. Instead of becoming melodramatic or dark and heavy, Hoffman illuminates the breakdown of CeeCee's home life with a gentle touch. You can empathize with a mother who yearns for her past glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. She is a woman trying desperately to return to a time and a place where she was happy. She loves her daughter ferociously, and she tries with all her might to pull herself together, but her will is not strong enough to withstand the unforgiving predator of despair. She is homesick for the South of her childhood, and for some reason feels that world is closed to her forever. With an outlook so bleak, it was virtually impossible for anyone, let alone a 12-year-old girl, to change her warped mindset.
But the title is Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and saved she is, when Great Aunt Tootie arrives to transport her to her mother's world of beauty and wonder in Savannah, Georgia. Her father gives up custody of her, and she is free to begin a new chapter in her "Life Book." The spirit of the novel resides in the bond formed between the elderly and the young. CeeCee's psyche is patched back together by her senior citizen aunt and her venerable maid, Oletta. The two women, although advanced in years, shower love, attention and comfort on this woe-begotten child. During the summer of 1967, they teach CeeCee how to live again. She learns how to open her eyes to nature, to savor a home-cooked meal, to cherish the time spent with others.
These women allow CeeCee to feel safe and protected. She is given the space necessary to hit rock bottom so that she can begin to reclaim the rest of her life. The time and patience they bestow on CeeCee allow her to vent her frustrations over her lost childhood and to mourn the death of her mother. They take her into their world wholeheartedly. There are uplifting passages of CeeCee experiencing the ocean for the first time and enjoying sweet tea out on the porch. They teach her how to enjoy the simple things in life, while exposing her to new situations like visiting a nursing home and hosting a garden party. They expand her horizons and open up her world.
The book is not in the least bit schmaltzy. It is underscored by a dose of reality. Underlying racism rears its ugly head placing CeeCee in a dangerous predicament. The immorality of an adulterous father is confronted. The emotional pain of losing a mother is relived. The fear of a genetic predisposition to mental illness is discussed. But now CeeCee is surrounded by people who love her offering her a support system that she can depend on. As she starts a new school year full of promise, you can't help rooting for her to triumph.
Overall, every page is a delight. This is a MUST read!
There are so many great passages in Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, I just have to share some of my favorites with you. It is such a beautifully written book.
• When a chapter of your Life Book is complete, your spirit knows it's time to turn the page so a new chapter can begin. Even when you're scared or think you're not ready, your spirit knows you are.
• Everyone needs that one thing that brings out her passion. It's what we do and share with the world that matters. Far too many people die with a heart that's gone flat with indifference, and it surely must be a terrible way to go. Life will offer us amazing opportunities, but we've got to be wide-awake to recognize them.
• I know you're scared, but you gotta grab hold of yourself. Every time you give in to your fears, you're lettin' that man win. And every time you do that, he gets stronger while you get weaker. Givin' in to your fears will rob you blind. You'll end up a prisoner to that man for the rest of your life. Don't let nobody rob you of your freedom.
• The human mind is an amazing thing. It protects us when we can't protect ourselves. Sometimes when we're holding pain and it gets to be too heavy or goes too deep, we have to give in to it, let it knock us over and pull us all the way down. Once we hit bottom, we rest in a quiet place for a while. Then, when the pain eases and we're ready to face the world again, we come right back up.
• It's what we believe about ourselves that determines how others see us.
• It's how we survive the hurts in life that brings us strength and gives us our beauty.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is available for $25.95 at Amazon.com and at BethHoffman.net.
Love what you read about author Beth Hoffman? Follow her on Twitter @Wordrunner (She is known to personally respond!).
Review copy provided by Year of the Bookwormz.
Congratulations to our winner: Hattie Norman!