From Publishers Weekly
Hoffman's debut, a by-the-numbers Southern charmer, recounts 12-year-old Cecelia Rose Honeycutt's recovery from a childhood with her crazy mother, Camille, and cantankerous father, Carl, in 1960s Willoughby, Ohio. After former Southern beauty queen Camille is struck and killed by an ice cream truck, Carl hands over Cecelia to her great-aunt Tootie. Whisked off to a life of privilege in Savannah, Ga., Cecelia makes fast friends with Tootie's cook, Oletta, and gets to know the cadre of eccentric women who flit in and out of Tootie's house, among them racist town gossip Violene Hobbs and worldly, duplicitous Thelma Rae Goodpepper. Aunt Tootie herself is the epitome of goodness, and Oletta is a sage black woman. Unfortunately, any hint of trouble is nipped in the bud before it can provide narrative tension, and Hoffman toys with, but doesn't develop, the idea that Cecelia could inherit her mother's mental problems. Madness, neglect, racism and snobbery slink in the background, but Hoffman remains locked on the sugary promise of a new day. (Jan.)
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Momma always told CeeCee (short for Cecelia Rose) that “being in the North isn’t living—it’s absolute hell.” Of course, having to live with Momma—Camille Sugarbaker Honeycutt, that is, Vidalia Onion Queen, 1951—doesn’t make it any more heavenly, especially when Momma starts standing in the front yard blowing kisses to passersby. You know this is going to end badly, and so it does, when the erstwhile onion queen is run over by a speeding Happy Cow Ice Cream Truck. Before you can say “sweet magnolia blossoms,” 12-year-old CeeCee is sent off to Savannah to live with her elderly great aunt, Tallulah Caldwell, and her wise African American housekeeper and cook, Oletta. It being 1967, you know there will be one dark episode of racial hatred, but it’s quickly—and conveniently—resolved offstage, leaving all the characters free to continue being relentlessly eccentric, upbeat, sweet as molasses, and living, as CeeCee puts it with a straight face, “in a breezy, flower-scented fairy tale . . . a strange, perfumed world that . . . seemed to be run entirely by women.” Light as air but thoroughly pleasant reading. --Michael Cart