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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BPL Book Club: Saving CeeCee Honeycut

On Monday, we met to discuss Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman.  Here is the publisher's description via LitLovers:
Steel Magnolias meets The Help in this Southern debut novel sparkling with humor, heart, and feminine wisdom.
Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. 
But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell. In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. 
From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie's all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.
Laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching, Beth Hoffman's sparkling debut is, as Kristin Hannah says, "packed full of Southern charm, strong women, wacky humor, and good old-fashioned heart." It is a novel that explores the indomitable strengths of female friendship and gives us the story of a young girl who loses one mother and finds many others.
Here's our discussion notes:

  • 7 people liked this book, 5 were so-so and no one disliked it
  • The liked voters jumped right into the discussion and wanted to share not why they liked it but why they LOVED it.
    • It was funny heartwarming, sad (appropriately); just a good read all around
    • It is easy to read without being fluff.
    • The characters were delightful. It was more about the characters than anything else.
    • Yes, and they weren't just stereotypes. They were believable people.
    • I loved how the author contrasted life up north with CeeCee taking care of her mother with the full life down south.
    • I liked how psychologically realistic the novel was.  She did not get magically better by moving into a big house in GA. She stillhad to work through some serious issues.
  • The so-so people:
    • I was waiting for the other shoe to drop the entire time. It never did. Everything worked itself out perfectly.
    • Aunt Tootie was a bit unbelievably good.
    • It was a nice little story, but it was too predictable.  I always knew what was coming next.
    • I liked the writing, especially the descriptions of nature, but overall it was too much of a Pollyanna story.
    • One participant said she was so-so because she herself lost her mother at 13 and she did not "fall into a bed of roses" like CeeCee.  For her, this book brought back too many bad memories.
    • It was a little too pink and sweet.
    • This was the summer of 1967 in the south yet there is very little about Civil Rights. That bothered me. Why set it in such a pivotal summer then.  Make it a few years earlier and the glaring omission of the huge events happening that same summer would not be an issue to me.
  • Question: How did the author's choice of having CeeCee narrate the story as a 12 yr old in the present tense effect how the novel unfolded?
    • I liked how it was through her eyes as all of this was happening to her. If she were looking back on this life changing summer (like when we read The Round House), it would be a different book.
    • It was a unique point of view.
    • She was very smart for her age, but since she had been caring for her mother and raising herself since she was very young, this was not very surprising.
    • This narrative choice allows us the watch CeeCee change and grieve in real time.
    • I think the narration-- from the eyes of a 12 year old-- is responsible for some of the "fluffiness" of the story. Her life was all about survival before moving the GA. Once there, she can let go of all of her worries. She has never had to only enjoy herself.
    • I liked that we see her inner feelings. We can understand why she is reacting oddly to seemingly normal things.
  • Question: Did you like the ending?  (People started talking about the ending just before this, so I went with the flow and let them run with it.)
    • I loved the ending because it was a beginning.  The first day of the rest of her real life.
    • I wouldn't want to see her in school. We saw her through the hard transition. She will be fine.
    • The book was really set during the summer. The story felt like stringed together vignettes, but summer is like a vignette. The vignettes are ending and life is beginning now. We step away.
    • The book is about her moving forward. As she walks to school, she is leaving us behind.
    • I asked if they would want to catch up with CeeCee's story later in her life? One said no. But a few said yes, after she has grown up a bit more.
  • Question: How did this novel deal with mental illness in the 1960s?
    • The way CeeCee's mom's illness and how it was dealt with was historically accurate. Pills were prescribed, but no one forced her to take them. The Dad got mad that she wouldn't and there was no counseling for the family.
    • They were shunned and made fun of because of the mental illness. No one stepped in to help.
    • Even Aunt Tootie feels badly about not helping earlier, but no one discussed mental illness openly then.
    • Some of us tried to give the Dad a break. He tried the best he could , but that was because of the narrative choice the author made.  CeeCee cannot understand what her Dad is going through. She doesn't know or understand what he is felling and what he did to help.
    • Poor CeeCee only learns about mental illness from the dictionary. Then she worries most of the novel that she will inherit it.
    • The not knowing if her mom killed herself or died by accident is also a tough.
    • The scene at the peach farm, when all of CeeCee's emotions about her mother come to a head was very memorable and believable.
  • Question: What were some of your other favorite characters or scenes that you want to share?
    • Oletta! She was nice, a listener, had great words of wisdom. She and CeeCee helped each other heal-- they were the mother and daughter each had loved and lost.
    • The lunch in the parking space outside the jewelry store was the best.
    • I loved Oletta's friends
    • The nursing home scene!
    • Neighbors- Goodpepper and Hobbs. Just everything about them separate and together.  Hobbs was a woman you loved to hate, but Goodpepper was not all perfect.
    • Overall, I just loved how the southern hospitality was well depicted.
    • As I read this book, I chuckled and laughed despite some of the serious issues here. This is why I liked it so much.
  • Question: What did you think of CeeCee's camera as a literary device?
    • I loved that she is drawn to taking photos.  They are stills in time of her new life. So much has changed for her and she is still processing it all. The photos slow it all down a bit.
    • The bra pictures were great! It shows she isn't perfect. It illustrates some of the anger she had inside her. She took it out on Ms. Hobbs, but she is a villain here anyway. It gave CeeCee some depth and showed some spunk.
    • It was not nice of her but it sure was funny. Very clever.
  • Question: What did you think of the garden party scene?
    • I loved the fight. There were all these women who feel so strongly about everything, it was bound to happen.
    • I like how this beautiful party ended with a brawl and everyone moved on. It was a nice metaphor for where CeeCee came from and where she was now going. Life would not be perfect ever, but even the little battles will be easy to handle now that she is in a safe place.
    • Also, I felt like Ms. Goodpepper and Ms. Hobbs needed this blow up. Their conflict was festering. Now they can move on and have a better relationship.
  • Question: Let's talk title-- Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
    • Saving her for now.
    • Saving her for her future
    • Teaching her to save herself
    • "Saving" is the present participle-- it notes that the saving itself is ongoing and is always happening and will continue to happen. It does not end when the book ends.
    • If it was called "How CeeCee Was Saved" that would be a different book.
    • She is also saving memories for herself at the end of the book, literally in pictures and figuratively in her "life book."
    • I like how who is "saving" her is not identified.  They all are, We all are.
  • Words or phrases to describe this book:
    • "peach of a novel" (from back of paperback)
    • endearing
    • warm and fuzzy
    • rose colored glasses
    • hopeful
    • comfortable
    • great characters
    • southern hospitality
    • memorable scenes
    • vignettes
    • female centered
    • lovely descriptions and metaphors
    • cinematic
    • fresh writing, original phrasing

Readalikes: This novel is the Secret Life of Bees meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with a heaping tablespoon of Fannie Flagg.

I also agreed with what it said up top in the publisher's description-- the movie Steel Magnolias and the novel, The Help would also be good choices.

This novel also reminded me of Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens (one of my under the radar book club favs) and the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells.

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