Friday, January 8, 2016

Book review: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell

This book has a very unusual backstory as it was previously published under a different title back in 2004 and then revised and republished by a different publisher. But the author and agent really believed in the book, and especially after the success of The Help and other books and movies about the Civil Rights movements, it seemed the time might be better for the book now. And it does seem to be (although also the book might have been greatly improved in the revision, we don't know.)

Hazel grew up brutally poor in the backwoods of Mississippi but she was determined to have a different life. She knew she could be pretty and get out, if she tried hard enough. She succeeded. She married a handsome and inspiring man, Floyd, and they moved to Delphi in the Mississippi Delta for Floyd to sell farm equipment. Hazel had two sons and they hired a maid, Vida. Vida and her group of maid friends eventually become the "Rosa Parks League."

I don't want to give away too much of the story so I'll leave that for plot description. It's an easy read and fast, especially given its length (440). While the author knows whereof he speaks (Hazel and Vida are based on his mother and a household maid he had growing up), it didn't feel especially Southern to me, aside from talk of the Klan, and the politics (this county is where Emmett Till was killed.) I didn't get the feel for it in the cadence of the language, I didn't feel the brutal heat of the summers, or the bugs and the humidity. These are mentioned, but they didn't come alive for me. I also felt the book could have been much shorter and not lost anything. (At one point my husband asked me about the book. I said it's about these two women, Hazel and Vida. He said, who are they to each other. I said, I don't know. I was 100 pages in but they hadn't met yet.) It's told in a strictly sequential style that actually worked great for where my headspace has been lately, but it is unusual to start when the main characters are children , instead of presenting their backstory later, in flashbacks, when it's pertinent. That said, there are a lot of great characters in the book. Many of them come alive with details and nuance that make them unique. And I really liked how the author pointed out in his afterward how much of the civil rights movement was begun by and supported by the women of the South who almost never get credit (except for Rosa Parks) and who were actively not allowed in leadership positions in the various civil rights organizations. This book is partly his tribute to those unsung women who were the true backbone of the movement. The book was inspiring and ultimately uplifting, if it did have some moments that were quite dark. If you like a rollercoaster of a story set in the 1950s and 60s and especially if you liked The Help, you should give this book a try.

I checked this book out of the library.

1 comment:

Christina T said...

This sounds really good. It is too bad the setting wasn't as vivid as you'd hoped but the story looks interesting. I will have to add this to my TBR list. I love reading novels about that time period and the Civil Rights movement. Have you read Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy? We read that in my book group and I really liked it.