2015 Book 34: MISS HAZEL AND THE ROSA PARKS LEAGUE Review

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell
ISBN: 9781940210025 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781940210049 (paperback)
Publication date: February 4, 2015
Publisher: Maiden Lane Press


Set in pre-Civil Rights Mississippi, Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is the story of two young mothers, Hazel and Vida one wealthy and white and the other poor and black who have only two things in common: the devastating loss of their children, and a deep and abiding loathing for one another. Embittered and distrusting, Vida is harassed by Delphi’s racist sheriff and haunted by the son she lost to the world. Hazel, too, has lost a son and can’t keep a grip on her fractured life. After drunkenly crashing her car into a manger scene while gunning for the baby Jesus, Hazel is sedated and bed-ridden. Hazel’s husband hires Vida to keep tabs on his unpredictable wife and to care for his sole surviving son. Forced to spend time together with no one else to rely on, the two women find they have more in common than they thought, and together they turn the town on its head. It is the story of a town, a people, and a culture on the verge of a great change that begins with small things, like unexpected friendship.


Two women in 1950s Mississippi have seemingly little in common. One is a white upper-middle-class white woman born in poverty. The other is a black woman living in abject poverty. On the surface it doesn’t appear that these two women could have anything in common, but looks can be deceiving. Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is the story of an unlikely friendship borne out of despair during a turbulent era.

Vida Snow led a somewhat glorious and sheltered life for a black child growing up in the 1950s in Mississippi. She was doted on by her father and treated like a princess. All that changed one evening in her fourteenth year of life. She was brutally raped. Vida ends up a mother before she turns fifteen and is devoted to her child Nate. Unfortunately for Vida and her son, the sheriff is willing to do anything to ensure his “child” is never exposed to the powers that be (namely his father-in-law). Vida eventually suffers one more indignity at the hand of her rapist and the father of her child, the loss of that child. The indignities are heaped on the Snow family when her father, the local minister, is accused of helping the NAACP, branded a militant, and ostracized by blacks and whites alike.

Hazel Ishee Graham was one of fourteen children born into a poor farming family. She worked hard to remake herself into a beauty and was determined to live a life better than the way she was raised. After marriage and the birth of two sons, Hazel is overwhelmed by her familial responsibilities. She doesn’t know how to cook and isn’t sure she knows how to raise children. Hazel doesn’t have perfect grammar and doesn’t quite fit in with the other women in town. The only thing she is good at is driving around town and looking good. It isn’t long before Hazel begins to seek solace in alcohol and driving. After the death of her youngest son, her desperation peaks. Hazel’s husband isn’t quite sure how to deal with the situation and hires a maid, Vida to see to it Hazel is taken care of (meaning medicated and kept away from alcohol). The only thing that Hazel and Vida have in common is they have both lost a child and that neither one is quite sure where they belong in a system that subjugates women to their husbands and societal rules and mores. When the story of Rosa Parks filters down to Mississippi, the Rosa Parks League (a small group of Black domestics) is born. This small group of Black women, with the assistance of one white woman, begins to fight for the right to vote and endures scorn, ridicule, and humiliation after humiliation.

It would be easy to say that Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League is a bit like The Help. Don’t get me wrong there are similarities (black domestic help and white women who hire the help), but the similarities are purely superficial in my opinion. Mr. Odell has provided a story that deals with racially inequality but this is ultimately a story about survival and friendship. Both Vida and Hazel overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles in their lives: poverty, the loss of a child, and more. Both Vida and Hazel are victims of the society they live in and it doesn’t really matter that one is white and the other black. I found Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League to be an intriguing story and one that pulled me in from the first page to the last. I actually read the entire story in one afternoon and simply refused to put the book aside until I was finished. (Yes it is that good.) There are parts of this story that will bring a tear to your eye, parts that will make you laugh, and parts that will make you cringe. I strongly urge everyone to read Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, not because of the subject matter or themes, but because it is simply one fantastic read.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



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Book 37: THE HEALING Review

The Healing by Jonathan Odell
ISBN: 9780385534673
Publication date: February 21, 2012
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Mississippi plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield loses her daughter to cholera after her husband refuses to treat her for what he considers to be a “slave disease.” Insane with grief, Amanda takes a newborn slave child as her own and names her Granada, much to the outrage of her husband and the amusement of their white neighbors. Troubled by his wife’s disturbing mental state and concerned about a mysterious plague sweeping through his slave population, Master Satterfield purchases Polly Shine, a slave reputed to be a healer. But Polly’s sharp tongue and troubling predictions cause unrest across the plantation. Complicating matters further, Polly recognizes “the gift” in Granada, the mistress’s pet, and a domestic battle of wills ensues.  

 

Seventy-five years later, Granada, now known as Gran Gran, is still living on the plantation and must revive the buried memories of her past in order to heal a young girl abandoned to her care. Together they learn the power of story to heal the body, the spirit and the soul. 


There are numerous books about slaves and the Deep South but few leave an indelible impression on this reader. The Healing by Jonathan Odell is one such book. Granada is born into slavery but has spent most of her young life at the side of the plantation mistress, much like a pet. Unfortunately Granada views her life through rose-tinted glasses and presumes that she is much better than other slaves simply because of her so-called status with the mistress. When Master Satterfield faces a plague that is devastating his slave population he brings in an older woman that has a well-known reputation as a healer, Polly Shine.

In many aspects, Polly has the same amount of leeway to practice her healing arts and live her life as Granada had during her younger years. Polly’s request that Granada join her in practicing healing is met with plenty of discomfort and tension, especially on the part of Granada. Although a slave, Polly has many ideas on what slavery and freedom entail and these ideas cause a split amongst many of the slaves into those that accept and understand her feelings and those that feel she is a troublemaker. Ultimately Polly ends up teaching Granada much of the healing arts, as well as providing hope to some of the slaves on the Satterfield plantation. 

Fast forward seventy-five years and Granada still lives on the plantation where she was born. The area has devolved into housing for many of the blacks descended from the slaves. Granada still practices the healing arts but there aren’t many who approach her for assistance, until a young girl, Violet, is left in her care. Violet is dealing with abandonment issues relating to her mother’s death and being left in Gran-Gran’s custody. As she slowly heals, Violet discovers the history of the plantation and gorges herself on the Gran-Gran’s memories of the people and events from the past. The Healing is just as much a story of the healing practices of Granada and Polly Shine as it is about the healing that Violet brings to Gran-Gran years after slavery has ended.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”




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