June 2010: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Author: Beth HoffmanBook Review by Cos Barnes

Because I was away visiting family for Easter, I missed Beth Hoffman’s visit to Southern Pines’ Country Book Shop, so I immediately read the first book by this budding new novelist.

I was so reminded of my Virginia aunts who added their input into my growing up years. I was reminded, also, of “Steel Magnolias,” “The Help,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” and all books Southern. I also thought of “Catcher in the Rye” when reading this coming-of-age novel.

Cecelia Rose Honeycutt, a 12-year-old girl who was called CeeCee, was the principle caretaker for her psychotic mother, Camille, who dressed in faded prom dresses and dyed-to-match shoes and reminded everyone of her former position as Vadalia Onion Queen of 1951. She overspent at the Goodwill Store, much to the chagrin of her husband who traveled and had other female interests elsewhere. Because her mother was the laughingstock of the town, CeeCee had no friends except for Mrs. Odell, a neighbor who was the closest thing to a mother the girl possessed.

CeeCee felt responsible for her mother, but she was a burden for a young girl in 1960s Willoughby, Ohio. One morning Camille was killed when hit by an ice cream truck. Shortly thereafter, her great aunt Tallulah, called Tootie by her friends, came and took CeeCee to Savannah to live with her and her African American housekeeper and cook, Oletta. There she met the eccentric friends of Tootie, racist gossip Violene Hobbs, Thelma Rae Goodpepper, a duplicitous wine drinker, and others.

CeeCee proves to be a survivor despite her heart-breaking childhood. These women restore her sense of belonging with their humor, heart and female wisdom. They allay her fears of inheriting her mother’s illness with their common sense and practicality. Life looks better for CeeCee. In the author’s words, “For the most part I had begun to make peace with the life I had back in Willoughby. But like a deep bruise, the memory of Momma’s final day jolts me whenever I bump up against it. I suspect it always will.”