Friday, November 29, 2013

Review: The Sweetest Hallelujah

The Sweetest Hallelujah
By Elaine Hussey
Harlequin MIRA July 2013
337 pages
From the library

The Sweetest Hallelujah

Betty Jewel Hughes finds herself in a terrible situation. Her cancer is terminal, her mother is elderly, and her daughter's father is not around. Who can she count on to take care of her beautiful, free-spirited daughter Billie? Seemingly out of options, she takes out an ad in a local newspaper. The advertisement is answered by Cassie Malone, an outspoken white widow. Can Cassie's secret connection to Billie help her to save this terrified family? 

I had a tough time getting through this book. My first issue was suspension of belief. The book focuses on Betty Jewel, a sassy former jazz singer who is at her wit's end because she can't seem to find anyone to care for her daughter. That was my first moment where things didn't quite make sense. Betty Jewel is agonizing over this while she spends time with her two best friends, one of whom is a mother herself. I never understood why she considered them unacceptable guardians. Then Cassie waltzes into the picture. Cassie is stubborn and independent and not about to be stopped by the fact that she is white and the Hughes family is black. Against the advice of her family and friends, she plows right into a very dangerous situation, in spite of the racial violence that is breaking out all over. 

Then there is the relationship between Cassie and Betty Jewel. Cassie discovers a secret that gives her a serious interest in Billie's future. Without giving away too much, I will just say that this discovery should drive a wedge between the two women. Instead, there are a few pages of strife and then the two women are bosom buddies.  In the space of a very short time, they go from women who had never spoken to each other to unofficial family. I never really believed their bond.

Ultimately, either this book or this reader suffers from The Help syndrome. It seemed as if Elaine Hussey decided to sit down and write a book about a white women who was able to save the day for a black family and a rare friendship that was forged across racial lines. At the very least, I think we have to be careful about how many times we can write and read this kind of story in light of the awful reality of our country's history. The connections never rang true for me and I found this book to be a difficult read. 

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