February 14, 2010
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
2010 Pamela Dorman Books
Finished on 2/10/10
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)
Steel Magnolias meets The Help in this Southern debut novel sparkling with humor, heart, and feminine wisdom
Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.
In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie's all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.
Laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, Beth Hoffman's sparkling debut is, as Kristin Hannah says, "packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart." It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.
Bookreporter.com's reviewer gave this debut novel five stars on Amazon. Lesa (of Lesa's Book Critiques) and Kathy (of Bermudaonion) also gave Saving CeeCee Honeycutt five stars. Kay (of My Random Acts of Reading) says it's one of the best books she's ever read. These are all people whose opinions I respect. (Click on the links to read their reviews.)
So what's my problem? Why didn't I fall in love with this new release as so many others have? Maybe, since it's been compared to The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, I was expecting another deep, thought-provoking read full of realistic and memorable characters. Instead, Hoffman's characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. The narrative lacks tension and there were far too many sugary scenes for my taste. Honestly, I felt the writing was simplistic and, if not for some of the language (and one particularly racy scene), I would have thought it was written for young readers (a la The Penderwicks).
While many will compare Hoffman's coming-of-age novel to The Help, The Secret Life of Bees and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the only comparison I see is that they're all set in the South. If asked what I would compare it to, the first book that comes to my mind is A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. I loved Fried Green Tomatoes and Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, but A Redbird Christmas is a sentimental, saccharine, over-wrought tale all too obviously intended to tug at your heartstrings. Of course many readers loved that book, so maybe I'm just not cut out to read Southern feel-good stories.
Final thoughts: Grab the book at your local library. If you love it, head to your nearest bookstore and buy a copy for a reread. If you're disappointed, you've saved enough to buy a copy of The Postmistress. From what I hear, it's "The Help" of 2010. Hmmm.