A little goes a long way.
Publisher: Abacus (Little, Brown)
First Published: 12th January 2010
Date Reviewed: 1st April 2013
CeeCee Honeycutt is the only person who cares about her mentally ill mother; her father is always away, and CeeCee has no friends except the kind elderly lady next-door. When Mrs. Honeycutt is killed in an accident, CeeCee’s neglectful father hands her over to her great aunt. Will it be worse in Savannah, the home her mother longed to return to, or will CeeCee find the regular life she’s always wanted?
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is the gripping début by Hoffman that combines a young person’s thoughts with an adult readership to interesting and, let it be said, successful, effect. Drawing on history with all the discrimination it involved, Hoffman introduces the reader to the world of a girl on the cusp of her teenage years, who has struggled to find her place in a town where she is guilty by proxy.
Important to discuss first is the text and structure. Hoffman has produced a very special work. As previously stated, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is gripping, yet on the surface that is something that shouldn’t be so. Hoffman’s book is slow, and there is not much action. The climaxes are minor and from the start it is obvious that there will be no great reveal. And yet yes, it is absolutely gripping. What Hoffman has achieved is that feat so beloved of many readers of literary fiction – whilst little happens in reality, this slowness allows for a great amount of detail. Hoffman’s 12 year old CeeCee is believable and partly for that reason, that the author allocated so much time to character development. The pages turn themselves and even in times of conflict, a certain calm pervades the text that suits the pace of life portrayed here. You can enjoy the proceedings without that nagging sense of wanting to get to the end of the book to discover the conclusion.
Talking of CeeCee, the prospective reader might wonder whether the thoughts and life of a 12 year old in 1960s America would be interesting enough to the mature target audience. Inevitably opinions will be divided, but Hoffman has ensured that her character is well-read, thoughtful, and mature beyond her years in many ways. CeeCee makes bad decisions of the kind any 12 year old might when they do not understand repercussions, but these choices and the way Hoffman otherwise presents the character mean that instead of being off-putting, the reader can empathise with her, will her to see the poor decision for what it is.
As said, CeeCee is far from perfect. Indeed there is a section where the previously grounded child, having grown up witnessing hatred and loneliness, takes it upon herself to inflict pain on another. It could be said that this was a bad move on Hoffman’s part and out of character for CeeCee, and yet it’s not at all easy to just accept that thought and move on. Besides the obvious element of understandable immaturity, Hoffman demonstrates how even the kindest person can turn down the wrong path sometimes, and, most importantly, she shows how CeeCee’s overwhelming love and gratitude for someone can translate as an urge to get back at the one who hurt her friend.
The history in this book is mostly subtle, though there are times when it is explored in detail. Hoffman doesn’t shy away from using the damning words and descriptions employed in the 1960s, using her characters to remind her readers of the prejudice towards Africans and, of course, the mockery of the mentally ill. Hoffman shows how despite emancipation, Africans were viewed with scorn, used as scapegoats in a world that believed an account based on whether or not you were of the right colour.
This history and the usage of it pervades the dialogues – in a way Oletta, the cook, is stereotypical. However there is this undercurrent of fact, Hoffman clearly wants to use all the appropriate and available aspects to really teach her readers what life was like, to make them feel as though the story is real and they are a part of it – because whilst it’s fiction there are many truths woven into it. What is of course wonderful, if predictable, is how the major white characters themselves treat African Americans, and how they are a part of the drive towards modernity. Their natures are explanations, and allow the author to portray the many different attitudes.
To be sure, in order to enjoy this book one needs to be happy with the idea of a young narrator, no matter how mature that narrator is. CeeCee can be a little too precious, and is headstrong in times of trouble – but then how many children are truly angels? Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is low on plot but bursting with character development and detail. And given that the plot is secondary, that is a fine thing indeed. If the idea of lazy but satisfying sunny days in a historical Savannah, mixed with some hard-hitting facts, is at all intriguing to you, then you are sure to love this book.
April 24, 2013, 5:15 am
I know I’ve heard of this before, but I’m not sure where.
I am happy with young narrators, obviously.
April 24, 2013, 12:34 pm
I’ve been looking forward to your thoughts on this book! As I’ve only read two other reviews of this book. One of which was very positive and the other negative! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think this book sounds like my cup of tea.
April 24, 2013, 3:05 pm
I hope to read this one this year as it’s been on my shelf forever and is one I really really want to read. I keep hesitating because I know it will be a bit slower read and right now I seem to want fast. It’s time will come. I love books like this and I hope I will like it when I read it.
Thank you for your insightful review, Charlie!
April 24, 2013, 3:08 pm
From the title and cover I would have completely dismissed this book – wrongly as well because you have made it sound rather marvellous. Another to add to the ‘to-buy’ list.
April 24, 2013, 4:33 pm
Lovely insightful review, sounds like my kind of read.
April 25, 2013, 2:43 pm
Well, you sold me. I’ve been wanting to read this since it came out, but kept putting it off for some reason. Will definitely get on it now. Great review!
April 25, 2013, 7:09 pm
Nice review, Charlie. I liked what you wrote here: “If the idea of lazy but satisfying sunny days in a historical Savannah, mixed with some hard-hitting facts, is at all intriguing to you, then you are sure to love this book.” I have reading moods like that. Will definitely keep this book in mind for just those times.
April 26, 2013, 5:49 am
This sounds lovely. I am a great fan of character based fiction. I think this would be the perfect book to read on a slow, sunny, summer afternoon.
May 24, 2013, 1:16 pm
Livinia: It was very popular a couple of years ago :)
Jessica: I’ve not read anything negative yet, I’ll have to look for it/them just out of interest.
Literary Feline: That was exactly my position until this review. It’s been on my shelf for some time. It is indeed a slower read, no big plot, but yes, it’s worth it. I think you’d like it, and thank you!
Alice: The cover looks a lot like another I’ve seen before, I think it’s called A Vintage Affair? Though knowing the US cover helped. I would place bets on you liking it :)
Teresa: It’s a very nice book.
Heather: Same, I put it off for so long! I know you’re reading her latest so yes, definitely give this one a go.
Belle: Thanks! Yes, sometimes you want a purposefully relaxed book.
Anbolyn: Yep, when done well with interesting characters, character-driven is something incredible. It’s definitely a sunny day book.