Cecelia(Cee-Cee)Honeycutt is a twelve year old girl tending her mentally ill mother in Ohio when the mother is suddenly, violently killed. The absentee father sends broken-hearted, emotionally exhausted, Cee-Cee off to abide with a great-aunt in Savannah, GA. Eccentric characters, including a black cook, Oletta, who conjures recipes for Cee-Cee's heart as well as stomach, funny neighbors who bring the joy of laughter back to Cee-Cee, and Aunt Tootie who loves Cee-Cee towards wellness alight off the pages of this bittersweet tale.
Beth Hoffman concocts the essence of southern fiction....loquacious descriptions that send the floral arrays right into the nostrils of the reader; imaginative, inventive similes that conjure images not soon forgotten; characters rich with amusing antics and life-earned wisdom.
I loved this book; I loved it because it is believable without being so depressing I want to slit my wrists. It is truthful in its ugliness, yet hopeful in its general belief that life holds a plethora of promise.
Beautiful writing, Ms. Hoffman, and may you have many, many more successes as this book is destined to be.
I don't give many five star reviews, but Beth Hoffman has a five star book (for sure!) with Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. The story opens with CeeCee (actually Cecilia) desperately trying to handle her mother's slow descent into madness. The writing grips you from the first line. I love books that grab my interest right away. The story is tragic at times, hilarious at others. If you love Southern fiction, this will be a favorite. This book reminded me of Cold Rock River or of Fair and Tender Ladies, also two of my favorites. I don't read many books over again, but I will this one. This is a great book to curl up with by the fire this winter, or to take on that long plane ride. But don't start it late in the day unless you want to be sitting up all night reading. It's that good. Really.
I was a little disappointed by this book. I enjoyed reading about Cece's adventures in her new life in Savannah but I felt like there was something missing. The first few chapters of the book explain about the troubled home life Cece endures, and then Aunt Tootie arrives to save the day. I understand that the author wanted to get the plotline rolling, but I felt like the tragedies in Cece's life were a little pat and airbrushed. Along those same lines, her new life with Tootie and Oletta seemed too good to be true. Other than a little hiccup during a day at the beach, Cece's life is just a never ending story of new clothes, a beautiful and luxurious home and lifestyle, surrounded by love. Now, I understand that this was the point of the book, but at the same time I did not really feel like Cece overcame much to get there and it was just too much of a "storybook" ending lifestyle. Truly too good to be true. Nothing against happy endings, but I need a little more on the way there.
on February 2, 2010
There's a well-known saying that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Unfortunately for Cecilia Honeycutt, the 12-year-old girl at the center of Beth Hoffman's phenomenal debut novel, the lemons life has thrown at her are rotten, unsalvageable fruits, and clearly something or someone else is going to have to intervene if she will taste any sweetness in life.
CeeCee has grown up in a sm all town in Ohio. Her mother is Camille Sugarbaker Honeycutt, a 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen and, via her marriage, a northern transplant. Sadly, like the beautiful and delicate flower whose name she bears, life for Camille Honeycutt above the Mason-Dixon line is an impossible climate in which to thrive. Today we might say CeeCee's mother has schizophrenia, is a manic-depressive, or, at the very least, is mentally disturbed. In the world of the late 1960s that CeeCee inhabits, she just knows that her mother's mood and mindset can change at the drop of a hat. She's aware that it's because of her mother's instability that her father, a machine tool salesman, stays away for weeks at a time leaving her to cope in an endless game of who's taking care of who.
It seems everyone knows CeeCee's mother is crazy, but other than an 80-year-old neighbor, Mrs. Gertrude Odell, no one makes any effort to nurture CeeCee or intervene in the situation. Poor CeeCee has developed into a bright student whose best friend is Nancy Drew and whose only mother figure is the tottering Mrs. Odell, who loves CeeCee like a grandchild but is just too old to offer anything more helpful than Sunday morning pancakes. Camille's title of Vidalia Onion Queen is obviously a crowning moment that her tortured psyche is constantly attempting to recapture. She is one of the best customers at the local Goodwill, carrying home armloads of ragged prom gowns and wedding dresses until her closets bulge. Into these dresses she will slip, a tiara perched upon her head, before positioning herself in the front yard to blow kisses at passing cars. It was in just one such dress that she either steps or stumbles in front of (CeeCee is never totally sure which) a truck that finally brings her agonizing reign to a tragic end.
It is the afternoon following the funeral and CeeCee has much to ponder. Her mother is dead. Her father has no idea how to raise a child and, based on Camille's suspicions, probably has at least one woman waiting in the wings. She knows her mother loved her deeply yet can't understand why she not only always made life so difficult but has ultimately left her all alone. Is there a special place in heaven for people who were mentally ill, or do they automatically get well in the afterlife? In the midst of such contemplations, a car pulls into the driveway. Not just any car, but a vintage shiny red Packard convertible with a shiny, outstretched guardian angel (named Delilah) on the hood. Tootie Caldwell has arrived.
Tallulah Caldwell is CeeCee's great-aunt who only ever saw baby CeeCee once before Camille's psychosis caused her to cut ties with her Southern roots. Tootie has come with an offer for CeeCee's father: let her take CeeCee back to Savannah, Georgia, where she will raise her not only in much better surroundings but, more importantly, in a greater state of normalcy than she has ever known. To his credit, CeeCee's father recognizes this gift for what it is and in no time is strongly suggesting to CeeCee that she pack her things, say goodbye to Mrs. Odell and get ready for a long car trip.
Life in Savannah surrounds CeeCee with caring women. From her Aunt Tootie (queen of historic preservation and of the garden) to Oletta Jones (Aunt Tootie's black cook who tucks CeeCee tight up under her wing) to her wacky feuding neighbors, Miz Goodpepper and Violene Hobbs, there is no shortage of feminine voices. CeeCee sets about making the transition from life without a female mentor to a life chock full of independent, funny, interesting and interested role models.
Savannah is not all wine and roses, but, well, mostly it is. Hoffman presents the reader with a few scenarios in which it seems the lemons are going to start hurling themselves at CeeCee again. But by age 12, she has had enough lemons, and even the most threatening scenes right themselves before the reader's heart can totally sink and become mere learning experiences instead. Also chafing in her subconscious is an unwillingness to come to terms with her mother's death and illness, and her fear that this sickness was passed on to her. Every female voice in the novel will play a role in eventually helping CeeCee break down these final barriers between her old life in Ohio and her new one in Savannah. This is most definitely an uplifting book, and the strength of Hoffman's characters and the charming affection with which she tells their stories keeps it from being merely a "feel-good read" and allows it to attain something more. This is one of those books that has that "it" factor.
One look at the resume of Beth Hoffman's editor and you'll instantly see how this book fits in: Pamela Dorman has brought the world such gems as THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER and THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN. Her knack for pulling bestsellers from the pile has earned her a namesake imprint at Viking, and Hoffman's novel is the first book to bear her name: Pamela Dorman Books. SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT has all the components necessary to hit the bestseller list right out of the gate, become a book club favorite and the first novel everybody will be talking about in 2010. It's simply the best book with which to start a new year!
--- Reviewed by Jamie Layton
I've been hearing about this book an awful lot lately. Numerous friends and family whose book opinions I highly value recommended this book, so I couldn't wait to sit down and read it.
Perhaps the anticipation ruined it for me, but I kept waiting (and waiting and waiting) to get to the "good part." It never happened for me.
This isn't a bad novel by any means. For me, though, it was an entirely predictable, somewhat boring book. Yes, the characters are cute and I liked all of them, but there were no enlightening moments, no huge epiphany, nothing striking at all. A decent story, but not a great one that will stay with me forever (I think it stayed with me for all of 30 minutes...the time it took me to start another novel).
Many people have already reiterated the story line here: orphaned girl taken in by a cute cast of distant relatives who raise her and give her the love she deserves. I won't bore you with that. I'll just say that if you tend to be susceptible to building up expectations for a novel, be careful here and don't expect a Pulitzer winner. Rather, expect a cutesy, warm, feel-good type novel (there are lots of them out there) and you'll likely get more enjoyment out of it than I did.
on June 5, 2012
This book would be perfect for twelve-year-old girls, but it's just too precious for grown-up readers. Had it been published and promoted as a book for youngsters, I would have rated it higher and reviewed it more gently. But it was marketed as an adult book, so I'll rate and review it as such.
The writing, plot, and characters aren't all that bad for light fiction. I was able to finish it without hating it, which is increasingly rare for me with fluff novels. THE PROBLEM: There were a lot of opportunities for real depth here. The story could have explored serious issues such as mental illness, a child's loss of her mother, and racial tensions in the South of the 1960s. Hoffman kills every chance for depth and dramatic tension by tidily dispatching every crisis with perfectly worded homilies delivered at just the right moment by just the right character. These little sermons are happily accepted by the other characters, who never raise the issue again. They all float along in saccharine harmony until the next crisis, which will be just as neatly dissolved with another special conversation.
Sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows get tediously predictable by about halfway through the book. There are some delightful characters, but they aren't believable when they're so easily swayed and soothed.
If you're looking for something sweet and fun and you're less critical of light fiction than I, you will probably find this a wonderful little escape. It has a lot of Southern charm and colorful characters, and there are some quite humorous escapades. I loved the photo journey of Miz Hobbs's remarkable traveling brassiere!
Aunt Tootie, Oletta, and Miz Goodpepper are lovable but not very convincing.
on March 19, 2010
My humble opinion: This book was sweet, fluffy, airy, and simple. It was lighthearted and warm and reminded me of drinking a vanilla latte hold the espresso and triple the vanilla syrup.
The story: Cecelia Honeycutt loses her mother to an accident/mental illness and goes to live with her great Aunt in Savannah. No longer a lonely outcast she grows to love the many charming women who become her family.
Bad: Overuse of the word dappled- everything was dappled! Sun dappled, shade dappled, dappled dappled dappled. Her mother's mental illness was not believable- not at all, just wasn't. I would have done further research on what psychotic people actually act like. Since that part wasn't believable I didn't hurt with CeeCee the way I should have.
Good: The book was so predictable that it was comforting. The characters were cheerful and aside from some overused words the setting was described richly and realistically.
Bottom line: This will appeal to readers of Jan Karon, but those who are comparing this to Gone With the Wind and To Kill A Mockingbird have had too much Southern heat.
on February 10, 2010
First off, I really wanted to like this book, I really, really did. I love Southern literature. I live in the South, I love the South, Southern born and bred, through and through. But I could not give this book more than 3 stars, and even that was stretch. It's an ok read, but it is NOT The Help, and if you're looking for that, you will not find it with this story.
First of all, her main character, CeeCee, is 12 years old, but you would never gather that impression from the way she speaks. Her voice is way too mature for her age, but yet overall you have to wonder if the author is trying to speak as a 12 year old girl, and failing, or if she is writing to 12 year old girls and that this book should not be considered adult fiction, but teen/young adult. I don't think she really ever grasped who her audience was going to be.
And the characters never developed. Throughout the entire book, I could never gather a picture of CeeCee, I could never see her to imagine her in the situations she was placed and because of that there was never a connection to her. I could picture Oletta (the housekeeper), and I vaguely could see Aunt Tootie, the neighbors, Ms. Goodpepper and Ms. Hobbs, I could even vaguely imagine her mother, Camille. But never CeeCee.
In addition, the storyline never developed. It didn't flow smoothly, it was choppy and very amateur. Southern novels are known for quirky characters, funny situations and heartgrasping storylines, this was an effort to combine all of those qualities and create a story that is complimentary to The Secret Life of Bees and The Help. And I think there was a good story in there somewhere, it just never got written.
I didn't hate this book, but I cannot recommend it to others because it was a struggle to actually finish it. It was superficial; it had surface but no depth.
on October 30, 2010
I suspect that a 45 year old guy in Texas was not the target of this book, but the target has been hit none the less. This is an amazing, beautiful story. Told with deft and depth. It has a dancers movement and a photographers eye. The voice of CeeCee tugs at heartstrings you might have forgotten you had. It's filled with Characters you will meet for the first time while feeling you have known them your whole life.
We live in a jaded, fast world. Do yourself a favor. Slow down, find a porch, take this book in and remember what it is to breathe again. A truly beautiful debut!
on July 6, 2010
I can see why so many people are reading (and choosing to review) this lovely, appealing first novel: In an age when zombies, vampires, and zombie-vampire mashups are dominating the charts, it's refreshing to find an author who focuses on the trials and glories of family life...and on the power of love to overcome all obstacles. This book is an ideal summer read (whether you live down south or anyplace else) and I look forward to following Beth Hoffman's writing career, wherever she chooses to take us next.