Saturday, April 03, 2010

Book Review: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

I stumbled upon the novel "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" by virtue of the narrator Jenna  Lamia (who so expertly co-narrated "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett). Her sing-songy southern voice was sweet - a vessle that drew me into the story. I had intended to move from "The Help" to Michael Crichton's "Pirate Latitudes", but allowed myself another trip into the South (Savannah, Georgia to be precise).
   
This novel was set during the same time period as "The Help": the early 1960's in Georgia - there is segregation, there is Martin Luther King, there is racism like in "The Help" but absent is the racial drama undercurrent. CeeCee's mother dies in a tragic accident brought on by her schizophrenia and dementia (not a spoiler), then CeeCee's already absent father (driven away by his wife's mental illness) doesn't want her and has already taken up with another woman in another city. Enter Great-Aunt Tootie - whom CeeCee has never met or heard about - a wealthy widow without children of her own; Oletta is the colored hired help who has worked for Miss Tootie and her late husband for decades and Mrs. O'Dell is the elderly next-door neighbor - a lonely widow who has served as CeeCee's rock of stability at home in Ohio - caring for her when CeeCee's mother was unable to.

"Saving CeeCee" is told from the point of view of 12 year old CeeCee Honeycutt. For those of you who have read "The Help", there's a May-Mobbily (Elizabeth's child in The Help) quality to CeeCee - who finds in Oletta her very first friend and the concept of color or societal place (of the period) doesn't even occur to her. In this sense the story is sweet - CeeCee is so hurt from her wretched childhood and so innocent and naive in the ways of the culture she's transported into.

Of course there are plot twists - and some of the realities of racism come to the forefront, CeeCee is forced to confront them, yet maintains a lot of her young innocence even through the twists.

This is not a page turner. I wasn't compelled to sit and listen to large chunks in my car at my destination - nor did I walk around with my GPS (I play audible content on my Nuvi) plugged into headphones like I have with other books. You won't listen intently with tears in your eyes and your heart in your throat. You probably won't become deeply vested in the characters....HOWEVER - the story is a smooth and pleasant listen. The plot while superficial is a very sweet and uplifting story - without becoming needlessly derivative of other novels in this genre. I liked this novel and like some of the others I've listened to recently it was always a pleasure to go back to Savannah for another few minutes or hours of my travel.

Without the racial tension (Oletta is the centerpiece of the cobbled together family), it was easy to transport back to the simpler time - the rich architecture of Savannah and the warmth of characters. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is not dramatic - but the lack of drama does not detract from the storyline and plot points. Jenna Lamia's narration is as sweet as a pitcher of cold southern sweet tea - her characters are rich and distinct without being overdone.

I've read several reviews that compare this novel excessively to "The Help" and that is certainly not my intention here. "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" stands on it's own as a fictional work. Listening to or reading one is not related to the other - and the two books neither compliment nor conflict with each other. The common thread is of course Jenna Lamia and from that perspective its tempting to pull one thread into the other. Ms Lamia has become one of my favorite narrators - I will continue to look out for her future narrations.


Beth Hoffman's "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" is published by Penguin AudioBooks and narrated by Jenna Lamia. "Saving CeeCee Honeycutt" was released on December 24, 2009 and runs 10 hours 4 minutes. Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is available from Amazon and Audible.com

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