"Even when the rainbow seems to pass right by me....I'm still finding Gold in the clouds....."

14 August 2014

2014 Book Review #32: Sweetest Hallelujah


This book!!  I read this book in a week and it's excellent.

It's one of those books that leave you wanting more....you want to know what happens to Billie......how does her life turn out??  Does she survive the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi as the adopted daughter of a white, widowed woman??

This book tugs at your heart-strings and makes you laugh, sigh, cry, and applaud. I've read some very  good books this past year....this is one of the best.....higher than a "10".


Betty Jewel Hughes was once a well-known and successful jazz singer in Memphis.  She was married to the once famous...and still rather legendary blues trumpet player, Saint. Sadly, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol and ended up in prison.  Betty Jewel made a life for her self after finding out she was pregnant and alone in the world, other than for her mama, Queen. She gave up her dream of becoming a real jazz star to move home with Queen and raise her little girl, Billie, in Shakerag, Mississippi.

The story opens in 1955 and takes place during that spring and summer. Billie is now 10 years old and her mama is dying of cancer.  Queen, being in her 80s and not all that good physically either, is the only family member who would be there for Billie when Betty Jewel passes on.

Betty Jewel decides to take out a "wanted" ad for a loving mother to adopt Billie after she is dead.  This is unthinkable. But....is it??

On the other side of town....the "white" side, Cassie Malone is a grieving widow.  Her husband Joe, also a blues musician from a wealthy and privileged family, is dead.  Cassie works part time at the local daily paper, The Bugle.  She is drawn to Betty Jewel because of the want ad.

She soon meets and develops a friendship with Betty Jewel.  This is unheard of while racial tensions are developing all across the south, particularly in their area of Mississippi.  Their bond of friendship is actually forbidden...but that doesn't stop these feisty women!

One day Billie overhears a conversation about her daddy so she sets off to look for him..........no one knows where she is gone.  Betty Jewel, her 2 friends Sudie and Merry Lynn, and her mother, Queen, along with Cassie and the rest of the Shakerag community begin a search party for Billie.  Her little friend Lucy is found sleeping near Gum Pond with Billie's beloved doll. The adults find out that Billie has set off for Memphis to find Saint, whom she believes is her daddy..the one she has never met.

Betty Jewel and Cassie set out in Cassie's car to find Billie.  They speak of many things and it is at this point that Cassie realizes just how much she loves this woman and her little girl and the other people of Shakerag.....despite the racial tensions.

Billie is found safe......and soon discovers who her actual father is.  It is surprising.......(I don't want to reveal it here in case you decide to read the book).  And yet, it brings another layer to the love the women have for each other.

As Betty Jewel is dying, Cassie promises her she will adopt Billie. Neither woman ever imagined what they would find in each other...the gifts each woman possesses, the grit and determination to do right by Billie, and the transformative power of friendship.


This book drew me right in.  I think it 's because I have always loved stories that bring whites and blacks together.  I have always been drawn to stories that involve friendships between the two races....and typically look for books set in the Civil War era.  I was happy to see this book was set a little later...in the mid-1950s about 4 years before I was born.  It was such an important time in history, in the southern USA.

The friendship of Betty Jewel and Cassie. It just amazes you.  It is so important to look past life circumstances and skin color.  It really is...and this book does a marvelous job of showing how important and vital good friendships are in our lives...it also shows the importance of honesty and being vulnerable with family and friends.

The book's underlying theme, to me, is that hope can prevail during terrible trials.  One of my favorite quotes in the book was also found on the back cover of the  book. It is this:

"the simple gestures----water when you're faint, blankets when you're cold, a hand when your'e falling---tell of friendships so strong they could withstand anything, even long-held secrets....."

If you like fiction based on history, and you like a good family saga.....this is the book for you!

And another great quote, from the thoughts of Cassie:

"sometimes life can surprise you in ways you least expect"

This book made me cry...the funeral scene is especially poignant....and when Billie discovers her dead mama lying next to her in the morning, you, too, like Billie, might want to scream.  But...she was a courageous woman...she loved with all her heart.  I hope I can do as well in my life with my daughters as this character was portrayed to do.

I have looked up the author and based on the reviews I've read, I am going to be looking for her other books in our town library.  She is excellent!

In my opinion, this book is appropriate for ages 12 and older.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I rate this a 14.


Susanne said...

Above a 10? I'll definitely have to look for it next library stop!

Faith said...

Yes Susanne it was THAT good. Just so moving. No bad language really except one time and that was actually mild. No disturbing gruesome scenes. A real good book.

Melanie Lopata said...

Wow! This DOES look good and like something I'd enjoy. Going to put it "on hold" at library right now!!