Book Review: The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey

This another book which jumped at me from a bookshelf in the library. I do seem to come across a lot of acrobatic books these days, I have to say 🙂

sweetesthallelujah

It is 1955. Southern America is engulfed in racial problems. Betty Jewel Hughes was once the hottest black jazz singer in Memphis. But when she finds herself pregnant and alone, she gives up her dream of being a star to raise her beautiful daughter, Billie, in Shakerag, Mississippi. Now, ten years later, in 1955, Betty Jewel is dying of cancer and looking for someone to care for Billie when she’s gone. With no one she can count on, Betty Jewel does the unthinkable: she takes out a want ad seeking a loving mother for her daughter.

The advert catches the eye of Cassie Malone, a white woman from the other side of town. Living a different, far more luxurious life than Betty Jewel and Billie, but misfortune and unhappiness dogging her as well. Cassie is still struggling to come to terms with her husband Joe’s death. She goes to a psychiatrist, on her sister-in-law’s suggestion, who suggests that she take up a project. Little does she know that she is about to embark on a project that would change her life. On seeing the ad for a mother, Cassie, who works as a journalist and having covered stories from the other side of town, is immediately interested. Her editor and close friend Ben, is not too keen on Cassie covering stories from there, given the racial tension that is prevalent, but knowing Cassie, is aware that she is not easily deterred.

Cassie discovers more than she would have wanted to. She discovers connections that she wouldn’t have dreamed about, and soon finds herself involved far more than she would have ever imagined, in the lives of Billie, Betty Jewel and her mother Queenie. I wish I could say more, but that would mean giving away more of the story than I should.

A sweet, moving story albeit a little unrealistic. The author portrays emotions beautifully. A child who suddenly realizes that her mother is dying. All she wants is to keep her mother alive, and if that is not possible, to go and find her father who she has been idolizing for long. Billie is an endearing, spunky, determind and strong child but even the strongest of children can get affected deeply when faced with the fact that their mother is dying. Betty Jewel, her mother, harboring a secret for years, having hidden it from the world, now, nearing death, is coming to realize that she might have to reveal the truth, to at least some people. A secret that could potentially be explosive given the racial tension they were going through. Betty’s mother Queenie is another strong character, unfazed by what life deals her. The unlikely friendship that sprung up between Cassie and Betty Jewel was really touching to read, especially since they had all the reasons to stay away from each other. The story was fast paced, rich in detail, kept my interest, till the end. The way it ended, however, was a little difficult to accept, for me. Suddenly, everything just falls in place, which seemed a little difficult to believe given the context. The way things fall into place in a part of the country where racism was rampant and tempers ran high, is a little difficult to believe. Especially since the book builds it up so well, people’s attitudes and prejudices, the violence and the intolerance.. And the ending, where everything just fell in place, perfectly, I have to say was a wee bit disappointing for me. Not that I wanted an unhappy ending, but I wish it was portrayed a wee but more realistically.

All in all, an interesting book, one that gave me a little more insight into America in the 1950s. Books like these show us a slice of culture and how things have slowly changed(for the better over) the decades. I would rate it. 3.5/5.

Just one more thought, the cover picture is rather misleading. Neither Billie nor Cassie fit into the image that is portrayed by the picture. Not that it makes a big difference, but I like covers that have some sort of relevance to the book.

About the Author
Elaine Hussey is a writer, actress and musician who likes to describe herself as “Southern to the bone.” She lives in Mississippi, where her love of blues and admiration for the unsung heroes of her state’s history served as inspiration for The Swe etest Hall elujah . Visit her at http://www.ElaineHussey.com.

This book is available from Amazon(UK) and Flipkart(India).

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