saving cee cee honeycutt

The advance copy of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt I received has a letter from the publishing company just inside the front cover, claiming that while plenty of other novelists have attempted to write Southern coming-of-age stories in the vein of The Secret Life of Bees, Beth Hoffman is one of the few to have succeeded. 

Though it’s been a few years since I read The Secret Life of Bees, I did recognize that the two novels share a number of features.  Both are narrated — in admirably authentic voices — by adolescent girls.  Both do have a coming-of-age storyline.  Both are largely dominated by female characters.  And both submerge their stories within Southern culture. But while Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a pleasant read, it lacks the depth and insight I remember finding in Bees.

That being said, I enjoyed the book very much.  CeeCee is a twelve-year-old that has had to grow up much too quickly; her mother has suffered from dementia for much CeeCee’s life, to the point where the beauty pageants she won as a teenager in Georgia are more real to her than her own daughter and their life in Ohio is.  CeeCee’s absent-more-often-than-not father is no real help; her only support is an elderly neighbor.  But when CeeCee’s mother dies, a great-aunt appears and whisks CeeCee away to the South, immersing her in a world of women and wit.

Set in the 1960s, the novel makes the most of its backdrop of Savannah, Georgia.  Hoffman paints a vivid picture of not only the beautiful houses and foliage, but also the quirky Southern characters that accompany them. Hoffman also manages to interject an appropriate amount of history; enough to give a true sense of the time and place we are reading about, but not so much that it overwhelms the focus on CeeCee’s story.

(Warning: slight spoiler below)

What does threaten to overwhelm CeeCee’s story is the constant parade of characters.  The novel is at its most compelling in the beginning when CeeCee is struggling with her mother’s mental illness and her father’s neglect, and continues to hold this strength as she gets to know her Aunt Tootie and the housekeeper Oletta.  But the introduction of character after character, though done with warmth and humor, eventually starts to dilute the focus on CeeCee and her experiences, and ultimately, Hoffman packages the ending a little too neatly.  I’m a fan of purely happy endings in romantic comedies, but in most other books, I look for an infusion of a little more real life.

(End of spoilers)

None of this takes away from the pleasure of reading what is, in fact, a lovely novel, but it does mean that the book doesn’t leave the impact I think it had the potential to.  Still, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a nicely written debut from an author I would certainly consider reading again. 

WHO: Beth Hoffman
WHAT: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
WHERE: Received an ARC from publisher through LibraryThing
WHEN: January 2010
WHY: Appealing premise
HOW: Hard copy

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~ by Molly on January 22, 2010.

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