Summary: A twelve-year-old girl finds a new family in 1960s Savannah after the death of her mother.
Twelve-year-old Cecelia “CeeCee” Honeycutt is responsible for taking care of her manic mentally ill mother, while her father is out making sales and cheating on his crazy wife. CeeCee’s mother doesn’t fit in in Ohio, which she refers to as the North.
During one of her manic episodes, CeeCee’s mother dresses in a Goodwill prom gown and believes she is in a beauty pageant. While she’s twirling in the middle of the road, a semi-truck hits her. CeeCee, of course, is witness to the whole scene.
After the funeral, her father ships her off to live with Aunt Tootie in 1960s Savannah. Her father loves her but is casually neglectful and detached, like many fathers in the 1960s. CeeCee is welcomed and wanted by Tootie, which makes a delightful, but unnerving, change for her.
Here CeeCee befriends - or more accurately is embraced and befriended by - her Aunt Tootie, Auntie Tootie’s black housekeeper Oletta and Oletta’s black friends Nadine and Chessie. I do mention the race because it is important to plot.
This book was deeply similar to The Secret Life of Bees. Young white girl finds a new family with black women in the South. But Saving CeeCee Honeycutt was much lighter in tone and mood, although there are moments of racial tension in SCH.
“As I watched all the comings and goings and listened to the charming “Welcome to Savannah’s” and the heartfelt ”I’m so pleased to meet you’s” that dripped like honey from these women’s’ lips, I realized that Southern hospitality not only came from the heart but was a practiced social art that had been passed down from one generation to the next – like fine silverware or china. Southerners had a way of doing things that made you feel special and Mrs. Odell soaked in every drop of the kindness.”It’s odd to me that a culture and locale that places so much emphasis on the social niceties isn’t completely embarrassed about the obvious and subtle racism that occurred as part of everyday life.
Mrs. Odell, her aged Ohio neighbor, is visiting them while on her way to retire in Florida. When her retirement plans fall through in a big way, Mrs. Odell is invited to live and retire with Tootie, Oletta and CeeCee. Tootie shares stories of her mother as a young girl, while Mrs. Odell can share memories of her mother in the later stages of her illness. With both women loving and supporting CeeCee, she begins to heal, and makes a friend her own age for the first time in a long while.
“I had been ashamed of her for so long that any good memories had been distorted and smudged by her illness.”CeeCee narrates the story and of course is far more mature for her age. She’s not naïve in the way that Lily from SLOB was, but because there was such a lack of dramatic tragedy in this book, it was difficult for me to evaluate the quality of the writing, despite similar plot lines. I do think that one line from SCH will stay with me longer than the image of Lily kneeling on the grits. Tootie is passionate about old buildings – the history, the décor, the beauty. It’s her fire; what keeps her going. And she asks CeeCee (and also the readers) “What’s your fire? What’s your passion?” Because when you find your fire, you find happiness.