For 12-year-old Cecelia Rose “CeeCee” Honeycutt, life has become a haze of keeping her head down and staying out of the way of cruel neighborhood kids. With her father nowhere in sight, CeeCee is left to plunge into the world of books to avoid the embarrassing antics of her mentally-ill mother, Camille, a former beauty queen who has sunk deep into psychosis. When Camille isn’t traipsing about town in tattered sashes and faded ball gowns, she’s nearly burning down their small kitchen with her attempts at cooking. And CeeCee doesn’t know what to do about it.
After an accident claims her mother’s life, CeeCee’s father briefly reappears to help sort things out — and part of that process is, in fact, to move his only daughter elsewhere. Tallulah Caldwell breezes into CeeCee’s life like a warm summer breeze, bringing with her the promise of a different life . . . of a better life. With barely any notice, CeeCee is swept up in her great aunt’s loving embrace and brought to Savannah, Georgia, where she will meet a great many new friends and maybe — finally — come to terms with her mother’s death . . . and, more importantly, her life.
Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, set in the 1960s, is Southern fiction at its best — poignant, lush and enveloping like breakfast in a sunny nook. That’s pretty much how I felt while reading this story: wrapped up in a comfortable world with colorful characters willing to share their secrets with me. CeeCee is a bright, introspective young lady who absorbs everything she sees and desperately hopes she’ll find security in Savannah. That’s what she seems to crave, more than anything: friendship. Love. Support. Understanding. Things most of us probably take for granted — myself included — but which she has never experienced after caring for her ailing mother for so long.
Hoffman’s cast of characters — almost exclusively female — include the outspoken but charming Oletta Jones, Aunt Tootie’s housekeeper; eccentric next-door neighbor Thelma Rae Goodpepper; town hussy Violene Hobbs; and Gertrude Odell, CeeCee’s elderly neighbor and surrogate grandmother from Ohio. With the help of these women — all powerful in their own way — CeeCee will learn the value of unconditional love and friendship, and I couldn’t help but want the very best things for our girl.
A minor quibble of mine involves CeeCee’s ability to think philosophically and well beyond her years one moment, but still say something adolescent and sweetly oblivious the next. Maybe that’s the jaded cynic in me bursting forward, but I felt a little annoyed with CeeCee’s naiveté a few times in the story. CeeCee as a narrator seems much older than CeeCee the character, and that may have been part of my unease. Still, it wasn’t a major issue — and certainly didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story.
Lovers of Southern fiction and coming-of-age tales will fall in love with CeeCee Honeycutt and the friends she makes in Georgia, and those of us with a sweet tooth will savor every recipe and dish Oletta lovingly prepares in Aunt Tootie’s kitchen. My stomach grumbled so loudly at the mention of Oletta’s famous cinnamon buns that I almost had to shove the book aside and make a bakery run. I can taste that sweet icing from here! Hoffman’s ability to make my stomach gurgle — and tug at those old heartstrings — is quite a feat. A heart-warming read I’ll be passing on to friends.
4 out of 5!