Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
This is a fantastic book for a first novel. CeeCee has been taking care of her bipolar, psychotic mother for years, as her traveling salesman father ignores the problems he can’t solve on his own.
Carl Honeycutt was much older and married Camille knowing she was moody. Sometime after taking her North to Ohio, she began exhibiting signs of bipolar disorder and eventually psychosis when she refused to take her medicine.
Did Camille show signs of mental illness first, or did Carl have a girlfriend in Detroit first? Hoffman implies the latter, but doesn’t really engage or answer the question. Carl refused to ask for help, ignored the neighbor who tried to help (and who subsequently moved away), and didn’t notify Camille’s family of the problems Camille was having. He left his daughter, Cecilia Rose, CeeCee, to take care of her mother as best she could. When CeeCee was twelve, Camille was hit by an ice cream truck on her way to the Goodwill store where she was a regular purchaser of old prom dresses, helping her relive her glory days as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen.
After her mother’s death, CeeCee’s great-aunt, Aunt Tootie, comes and takes her away to Savannah. In a magical world of women, CeeCee learns to grieve and how to live again. She helps Mrs. Goodpepper catch slugs to fling into her neighbor’s, Mrs. Hobbes, backyard and watches the serious consequences. She finds a second mother in Oletta Jones, Aunt Tootie’s cook, and watches her cope with racism and a frightening theft that turns against the thief.
She brings sunshine to the nursing home where Oletta’s aunt is living out her days, and in return Oletta’s aunt and her best friend come to the party welcoming CeeCee to Savannah. At the end of the book, at the end of summer and after coming to terms with her mother’s life and death, CeeCee heads off to her new school to start the new school year in company with her new friend, her first friend her own age.
This is a sweet, heartwarming book. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to Ms. Hoffman’s future novels. This was a great novel, and I am sure her future offerings will only improve. Definitely an author to look for again.
After writing this review, I saw the review by Publishers Weekly (on Google Books). That reviewer liked the book much less. The review ends:
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.
I definitely disagree with these statements. I think the book is written from the perspective of a twelve-year-old, and so the problems are dealt with at that level, not at an adult level. The idea of Cecilia inheriting her mother’s illness is not developed further because the adult characters are trying to reassure Cecilia, not scare her. I’m not sure how the question could have been further addressed without leaving Cecilia’s point of view behind. Also, and I think this is important, the book is set in the early 1960s, perhaps 1962 or 1963. There was not a whole lot to be done for the treatment of mental illness at the time, and I think the characters’ attitudes of hoping for the best with Cecilia are in perfect keeping with the times.
I think that the times can also explain the racism and snobbery that are problems in the book but not really dealt with. I think those were issues not really being talked about then, especially by white people. It was something to ignore, which is exactly how the characters behave.
For me, I don’t like reading books set in the past where the characters have modern discussions and attitudes. I would much rather read a book that accurately (or as accurately as possible) reflects the attitudes of society at that time. I’m sorry that the reviewer at Publishers Weekly doesn’t understand that pleasure.
I give Saving CeeCee Honeycutt four stars out of five.